In a successful baseball season, Northern Lakes League champion Anthony Wayne can identify a single game as the turning point.
It was a tough, 10-inning, 4-2 loss in league play to Northview, in which the Wildcats hit a walk-off home run to give AW senior Andy Whewell his only pitching defeat this season.
Sixth-year coach Mark Nell and his Generals (22-4) agree that that loss forced them to regroup and refocus.
AW responded by locking up its first NLL baseball title since 1971, clinching the crown with Tuesday s 4-1 win over Rossford, which pushed the Generals NLL mark to 11-1.
That [Northview] loss put a dent in us, Whewell said, but we came back so well from that as a team. That made us stronger.
It was an eye-opener that we re not unbeatable, senior catcher Adam Brentlinger said, and that we needed to play every game like it could be our last.
After last night s scheduled league game at Bowling Green, the next test comes tomorrow when the Generals face Middleburg Heights Midpark (16-9) in a 5 p.m. regional semi.
It s a great opportunity for anybody, Nell said of reaching the regional. There s 16 teams left in Ohio, and these guys are just as deserving as anybody else. We had some breaks and we ve worked hard.
AW also reached regional semifinals in Class AA in 1965 and in Division I in 2000, and advanced to regional final in 1998 in Division II.
Winning league and district titles, oddly enough, were not defined goals for Nell s team. That s because he and his staff decided to do away with goal-setting.
We kind of changed our philosophy, Nell said. Last year, we thought this group could be pretty good because we had some pretty good senior pitchers with them. But we, as a coaching staff, were real goal-oriented with the players individually.
This year we said, Hey, let s forget that stuff. That s too much pressure to put on them, and to have them put on themselves. This year we just say, let s have a good practice today and play for the next game. We don t worry about anything beyond that.
AW, which had non-league losses against Clay, Napoleon and Ottawa Hills, has beaten Celina, Bowling Green and Mansfield Madison in tourney play.
Whewell, who also plays second base and outfield, is 10-1 with 67 strikeouts and a 1.75 ERA over 482/3 innings. He is batting .361 (30 for 83) with four home runs and 19 RBIs.
Last year we were a junior-based team, Whewell said. Now that we re all seniors, we know how to win. When the games are close, we know how to finish. The best part is, we re teaching the younger guys how to do it, too.
Brentlinger is hitting .433 (26 for 60) with one homer and 15 RBIs.
We ve all been playing together since we were very young, the AW catcher said, so it s more like a family than a team. Nobody wants to let down their family members in the big games.
I think the most important thing this season compared to the past is that we haven t expected to be [22-4]. We ve been taking it a game at a time with no long-term goals.
[In tight situations] we make sure we don t panic. It s a seven-inning game, and we know anything can happen. We don t let up on people, and we don t give up on ourselves.
Topping the hitting list is a senior who started the season as a backup. Miguel Flores is hitting .528 (19 for 36) with two homers and 12 RBIs.
Flores entered the lineup after a season-ending injury to Mike Hahn, who fractured facial bones in a collision with a teammate while tracking a pop fly.
When we found out Mike was out, coach gave me the nod, Flores said. I knew I d have to step in and play a big part because Mike was a good player.
Flores offered another reason for AW s success.
I think it s our chemistry, he said. We all work together and we re a close-knit team. Our seniors are great leaders, and we have great pitching, great hitting all around, and we play hard.
All nine lineup regulars are batting above .300 for AW.
Junior right fielder Jon Holmberg is at .413, sophomore pitcher-DH Josh Stidham is at .387, senior left fielder Brock Sherman is at .358 with a team-high 24 runs scored, sophomore pitcher-infielder Nate Sherman (Brock s brother) is at .348, senior shortstop Thomas Hertzfeld is at .345 with a team-high five home runs and 20 RBIs, and senior first baseman T.J. Bridges is at .321 and has two homers and a team-high 23 RBIs.
Complementing Whewell on the hill are starters Nate Sherman, who is 7-0 with a 3.13 ERA over 532/3 innings, and Stidham, who is 3-0 with a 2.82 ERA over 221/3 innings.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com or 419-724-6461.