THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Four area baseball teams are four wins away from coveted state titles in their respective divisions.
Three of them -- Clay, Ottawa Hills and Gibsonburg -- already have state championship trophies in their school's trophy case, while Lake has advanced as far as the state semifinals in the past.
Division I at BGSU Stellar Field,
Clay (13-14) vs. Ashland ( 22-4), today, 5 p.m.
The Eagles started the season 0-6 and eventually dropped to 2-9 before righting the ship. They have won 10 of their last 15 since then, including four tourney games.
Ashland senior left-handed pitcher Adam Schaly, a Stetson University-bound flame-thrower who has dominated all season long and is considered one of Ohio's top pitchers.
Schaly is 10-0 with an 0.25 ERA (two earned runs) and 115 strikeouts in 56 innings this season. He blanked third-ranked Anthony Wayne 2-0 in the district semifinals, then got the win in relief as the Arrows rallied from an 8-1 deficit to overtake Maumee 11-8 in the final.
"I've not seen him play," Clay coach Garry Isbell said. "About all I know is he's a hard-throwing lefty in the upper 80s [mph], and he's got good stuff. He's pretty good.
"I don't want to make it too big of an issue talking about this kid. I just want my kids to go out and play like they have been playing the last 15 games. As long as we do that and take care of business, I think things will be OK. We have to take the same approach."
Clay, which won a Class AAA state championship in 1979, is returning to the regional for the first time since back-to-back appearances in 2006-07.
"I'm not surprised," Isbell said of his team winning the district after starting 2-9. "All along I knew we had the ingredients to be a good baseball team."
The Eagles rode the right arm of junior Jordan Grosjean through the first three tourney wins. Ross Achter and Brett Jordan combined to beat Southview in the district final.
Grosjean is 5-1 with an 0.94 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 52 innings pitched. Achter is 4-4 with a 2.31 ERA.
At the plate, Clay has been paced by junior center fielder Lucas Robson (.360, 15 RBIs) and sophomore third baseman Bryce Castilleja (.318, 14 RBIs). In last week's district games, senior left fielder and No. 9 hitter Tyler Brown was the Eagles' hitting star, going 4-for-6 with three doubles in the two victories.
Division III at Elida,
Lake (24-5) vs. Carroll Bloom-Carroll (22-5), today, 5 p.m.
In reaching their fifth regional under 28th-year coach Greg Wilker, "togetherness" has been the key for Lake, which has established a school record for single-season wins.
"This group of kids just enjoys being together, no matter if they're going out to eat at a restaurant or practicing baseball," Wilker said. "They enjoy being around each other and that goes a long way."
Bolstered by the experience of eight senior starters, Lake overcame a 1-2 in Northern Buckeye Conference play to finish 11-3and win the title.
In tourney play, Wilker credits his team's advancement to some age-old baseball fundamentals.
"We've had good pitching, timely hitting and we've played outstanding defense," Wilker said. "Otsego hit some balls hard [in district final] and we were able to go get them in the outfield. Against Archbold [district semis] we made a lot of nice plays on the infield. We hit the ball at the right time, and bunched some hits together."
THE BLADE/ZACK CONKLE Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Expected to start today is senior Josh Tantari (6-2, 2.58 ERA , 60 strikeouts in 40⅔ innings.
If Tantari should falter, or if Lake advances to Friday's final, the Flyers have three other able arms ready -- seniors Jake Materni (7-0, 1.92 ERA), Thomas Nichols (5-0, 1.40 ERA), and Nathan Scanlan (3-2, 2.50 ERA).
At the plate, Lake is led by sophomore first baseman Jayce Vancena (.357 average, 21 RBIs), senior left fielder Corey Hotmer (.353, 29 RBIs), senior second baseman Casey Conine (.325), and Tantari (.322), who also plays center field. The rest of the senior contingent includes shortstop Ryan Kohlhofer and catcher Jake Bandeen.
Lake made its only appearance in the state semifinals in 2001, when the Flyers lost 6-1 to Youngstown Ursuline.
"What I tell the kids is, being picked to win the league championship is not pressure," Wilker said. "Struggling to put food on the table or losing a job, that's pressure.
"This is just a game. Remember that. And. That's how they approach it. We started out 1-2 in the league, but the kids bounced back and won 10 straight."
Wilker (473-296 career) also led the Flyers to regional trips in 1985, 1990 and 2003). The previous Lake record for wins in a season was 23, accomplished in 1990, 2001, 2004, and 2011.
Division IV at Patrick Henry,
Ottawa Hills (23-6) vs. Leipsic (25-3), today, 2 p.m.
In his 32nd season, Ottawa Hills baseball coach Chris Hardman is taking a team to the regional for the 14th time.
The Green Bears nonleague schedule against tough competition has prepared them for the tournament trail.
"I just think the kids recognize we've been through some good teams and faced some wonderful pitchers," Hardman said. "So, you'd like to think, when we run up against that good pitcher, those experiences we've had over the last couple months have at least prepared us for that and we won't be overwhelmed.
"It doesn't mean that you won't get beat, because good pitching can do that. But we feel like we've been prepared. Win or lose, our kids have developed some confidence from that. I've said for 30 years, we may get beat, but we have already faced teams that are better than the teams that remain ahead of us."
The Bears' six losses came against three teams from the TRAC -- Central Catholic, St. John's, and Whitmer -- plus two games during their spring trip to Florida -- Buffalo (N.Y.) Timon, and DeSoto (Fla.), and this week against Toledo Christian.
Ottawa Hills advanced to its third straight regional by edging North Baltimore 2-1 in the district semifinals, and hammering Northwood in the final.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo
The Bears are led by senior Adam Moreau (shortstop, .477, 2 HR, 43 RBIs), junior catcher Will Longthorne (.424, 34 RBIs), and junior pitcher-infielder Judah Wollenburg (.440, 5 HR, 27 RBIs, 19 stolen bases), a transfer from Newark Catholic, who started for the Green Wave in a D-IV state semifinal last year and in a state final in 2010.
"Moreau, Longthorne, and our catcher Nick Fischer were part of the state team in 2010," Hardman said, " and all of our kids were on the regional final team last year.
"So, I don't think we'll be fazed by playing in the regionals, in fact I'm sure we won't. But it's one day of baseball and anything can happen. We understand that."
Leipsic was ranked fifth in the final D-IV state coaches poll. The Bears are unranked.
This year, Wollenburg is part of a pitching staff that has risen to the occasion while tackling the challenging schedule.
Wollenburg is 5-1 with a 3.15 ERA, and fellow juniors Scott Tucker (7-1, 1.96 ERA) and Joe Mackey (7-1, 1.77 ERA) also have been strong.
Hardman has guided the Bears to seven state tournaments. Ottawa Hills won a state title in 1986, and was runner-up in 1992, 1996 and 2001. The Bears lost in the semifinals in 1988, 2002 and 2010. The school's other state semifinal was in 1973.
Division IV, at Patrick Henry,
Gibsonburg (21-7) vs. Tinora (22-3), today, 5 p.m.
Gibsonburg has a state title under its belt when the Golden Bears made a magical run in 2005 when current eighth-year coach Kyle Rase was in his first season.
The unlikely ride to the D-IV state crown was so extraordinary a movie was made about the team, which finished with a 14-17 overall record, and tied for sixth in the Suburban Lakes League that season. They were the first team in Ohio history to win it all with a losing record.
The film, Gibsonburg, debuted at the Ohio Independent Film Festival Saturday in Cleveland.
"I was very fortunate to take part in that my first year," Rase said. "After coaching now for a while, I look back on it now, I appreciate it more."
The Golden Bears knocked off top-ranked 25-1 Hopewell-Loudon 5-2 in last the district final in Findlay.
"It was a great experience," Rase said. "A lot of fun. You play them one game on one day. We weren't playing them in a seven-game series.
"We told the seniors, 'This is a great opportunity for you, playing the No. 1 team in the state in the tournament. Great moments in your life come from great opportunities that you cash in on. This was an opportunity they cashed in on."
Rase attended the Cleveland film viewing, and plans to be in Los Angeles June 5 when Gibsonburg debuts at the Dances With Films Festival at the historic Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
Gibsonburg is led by senior pitcher Logan Jones (8-1, 1.29 ERA, 89 strikeouts in 48⅔ innings). Providing additional support have been Dylan Dorfmeyer (4-1, 2.58 ERA) and Gabe Hickman (5-0, 3.12 ERA).
At bat, the Golden Bears have been paced by sophomore Andrew Cantrell (.438, 24 RBIs), and seniors Gage Beaber (.365, 45 stolen bases), Sam Kohler (.365, 24 RBIs), Leroy Neeb (.314) and Nick Williamson (.312).
Third-ranked Tinora reached the Division III state semifinals last season.
"We've been successful because we've had good pitching," Rase said. "I always stress eliminating free runners and free passes. We've done a good job with control and not walking people for the most part.
"We have some guys who get on base a lot, how ever they need to do it -- walk, hit by pitch, scrappy infield singles. In different games, someone steps up. We don't have any pressure on us. We just need to keep playing like we have. Each game is one game on one day, and we want to make that our day."