Four recent high school graduates each contributed to the runner-up finish for Team Ohio in the 36th annual Heartland Baseball Classic in Oklahoma last Tuesday through Saturday.
One of the four — Whitmer’s Luke Hickey — was a relatively late addition to the 20-player roster selected by Team Ohio head coach Jeff Mielcarek, the longtime Central Catholic coach.
Hickey made the most of his chance, batting .444 (8-for-18) during the team’s nine-game run, and was one of four Team Ohio players selected to the Heartland Classic’s all-tournament team.
“The experience was much more than just finishing as runner-up,” said Hickey. “Going into it, you didn’t know any of the guys, except for the local guys who were on the team. It’s crazy how you can go from not knowing guys to becoming a super tight family.
“That was the most exciting part for me. We got hot at the right time and really formed together well. Same for me — I got hot at the right time and was helpful in us becoming runners-up. I took great pride in it.”
The other local players were pitchers Jordan Grosjean of Clay and Jake Rudnicki of Central, and infielder Judah Wollenburg of Ottawa Hills.
During the six-game pool-play portion of the tourney, Ohio defeated Colorado (4-3), Georgia (7-4), Maryland (10-4), and Arkansas (12-2), and lost to host Oklahoma (6-5) and eventual champion Texas (13-3).
In the quarterfinals, Ohio topped Colorado again (16-3), and in the semifinals avenged the earlier loss to Oklahoma by holding on late for a 7-6 win.
Grosjean, who will pitch at Central Michigan, exited with a 5-1 lead in the seventh inning in the pool-play loss to Oklahoma, and earned a save in the semifinal victory over Oklahoma. He was a Three Rivers Athletic Conference co-player of the year this past season.
Rudnicki, who will pitch at Ohio University, earned the win in the first Colorado game, and was the losing pitcher in the 6-0 loss to Texas in Saturday’s championship game played at Norman High School. He was also an All-TRAC first-team selection, and was picked to the Division II All-Ohio first team.
In addition to his solid hitting and errorless play at shortstop and third base, Hickey, who will play at Bluffton University, also pitched five innings to get the mercy-rule win over Arkansas.
“Luke took advantage of the opportunity he got early in the week, and then he never came out of the lineup,” Mielcarek said. “He got a chance and performed at a high level right from the start.
“Both Jordan and Jake pitched like people around here have seen them pitch the last few years.”
Wollenburg, who will play at Eastern Michigan, started games at three different infield positions.
“To be honest, this experience — meeting all of those guys and all of those [host] families — is right up there for me tied with getting to that state championship [basketball] game with Whitmer,” said Hickey, who was a starting guard on the Panthers’ 2012 Division I state runner-up basketball team. “Those are once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and I will never forget them.”
Mielcarek served his seventh year as Team Ohio’s organizer and head coach.
“It was one of the better finishes we’ve ever had,” Mielcarek said of Team Ohio, which was also runner-up in 1990 and 1998 when this event was called the Sunbelt Classic. “We played very well Tuesday through Friday, and the experience for the kids outside the field was about equal to the experience they had on the field.
“Our local kids played an integral part in our success, both on the mound and offensively. The level of play is incredible, even with some of the teams that struggled. You’re not walking out and beating anybody just because you showed up. It’s a very high level of play with lots of Division-I [college] signees throughout the tournament.”
Former longtime Team Ohio head coach Mike O’Reilly, who was formerly the head coach at Southview and St. John’s Jesuit, returned to the staff as the team’s third base coach this year.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.