Ottawa Hills has been one of Ohio's most successful baseball programs, making seven state tournament appearances since 1986.
But since the Green Bears won a state title in 1986, they have been defined by "almosts." After winning the Class A crown in 1986, the program has lost in its six state appearances since.
And in recent seasons, the "almosts" have hit at the regional level: OH suffered an 18-inning loss in the semifinals in 2005, then suffered setbacks in the finals the next two seasons.
But this season Ottawa Hills hopes to erase those "almosts" as it makes its first state tournament appearance since 2002. The 19-10 Green Bears will face Fort Loramie in the state semifinals at 10 a.m. today at Huntington Field in Columbus.
Ottawa Hills senior Jon Shollenberger is batting .452. He hit a home run in the regional final.
"I'm still not certain how really good we are, but that doesn't matter because we've been 'good enough' five times," Ottawa Hills coach Chris Hardman said. "That's what tournament baseball is about: being better than the other team on that day. I hope this team will take those near-misses and use them to its advantage."
Before the season began the Green Bears set their goal at returning to the state tournament.
"Back in January, there was a rumble as to how well we were coming together, and that [winning] a state title was possible," senior Jamie Lesinski said. "But we had a rough time in Florida, and we had some setbacks early back home. So we had to regroup and come together to make this tournament run."
Ottawa Hills won only once in four games in Florida, then lost four straight in mid-April to fall to 4-7. But the team rebounded to win eight straight and set the tone for its tournament run.
Seniors Michael Deckebach, left, and Rohan Shah have helped the Green Bears reach the state tournament. Deckebach is hitting .328 with a team-high 33 walks. Shah is hitting .300. and has eight stolen bases.
"We don't look too far in advance," senior Jimmy Zimmerman said. "You have to take care of the game that you are playing, or you may make a misstep along the way.
"We've had players step up in every game, and the good thing is that it always has been someone different. Everyone plays solid, and a couple of players give us the clutch hits or the clutch defensive play that helps us win the game."
The pitching staff is led by three juniors. J.J. Buckey leads the way with an 8-1 record and 1.99 ERA, while Kyle Jarecki is 4-3 with a 4.43 ERA and Tom Jamieson is 2-0 with a 7.00 ERA.
Offensively, the Green Bears have five players hitting .354 or better, led by Buckey (.483) and senior Jon Shollenberger (.452). Jamieson is batting .371, while sophomore Adam Moreau is at .365 and Jarecki is hitting .354 with a team-leading 36 RBIs.
And senior Michael Deckebach is batting .328 with a team-best 33 walks that push his on-base percentage near the .500 mark.
"We've been able to get production from all of our people," Hardman said. "That's what it takes [to win a state title]. We don't have to hang our hat on one thing happening [to win].
"I could tell you something that each one of the guys on our team did that contributed to our winning [the regional]. It isn't always big things; baseball is a collection of little things done well enough to win."
The big things include a game-changing home run by Lesinski in the regional semifinal win over Hopewell-Loudon, and a homer by Shollenberger that rallied the Green Bears in the regional championship victory over Delphos St. John's.
But they also include a game-saving catch by senior Rohan Shah (.300, 8 stolen bases) in center field against the Blue Jays, and an aggressive running game that forced Delphos St. John's to commit five errors that led to the five unearned runs that proved to be the difference in the win.
"When we get down and you're trying to figure out where the next big play is going to come from, someone seems to step up, get our team back on track, and lead us to a win," Shollenberger said after the team's regional final win.
Shah agreed, adding, "We never give up. That's been one of coach Hardman's mottos for this year, to never give up. We just keep fighting."
There has been plenty of adversity as well, as Ottawa Hills saw Zimmerman go down with a wrist injury and Jarecki slowed by a broken nose.
"I never want anything to be easy," Hardman said. "I tend to think that, the harder things become, the more chance there is for greater joy. I hope that this is what happens for these guys."
Contact John Wagner at:
or (419) 724-6481.