OHSAA 2021 District 15 Baseball Tournament Preview

EDITOR’S NOTE: This information is not affiliated with the Ohio High School Athletic Association or any school mentioned in the stories. Eyeoncleveland.com’s JOHN KEREZY is the content author. There will be multiple posts to this site on June 1 and June 2. Kerezy is hoping to do day-of-game stories on June 3 and June 4, and they’ll also be found at this web site.

Three games. Four teams. Only one advances to the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s (OHSAA) State Tournament at Canal Park in Akron on June 10-12.

That goal – getting to the State Tournament – is on the hearts and minds of players and coaches from East Knox, Hiland, Paint Valley and (Lucasville) Valley baseball teams as they converge in Lancaster for the OHSAA District 15, Division IV Regional tournament. Valley and Paint Valley will meet at 2 p.m. Thursday, followed by East Knox’s Bulldogs tangling with the Hiland Hawks at 5 p.m. Winners of each game vie on Friday at 5 p.m. for the right to advance to States.

In this package of stories you will find:

  • Rosters of all four baseball teams
  • Summary of each team’s season thus far
  • Link to obtaining tickets for the games from the OHSAA
  • Information about Beavers Park
  • Photographs of some players from East Knox and Hiland

For a download of the rosters of players on all four teams, click here:

Similarities and differences abound: Established excellence opposes
upstarts when East Knox meets Hiland in Regional Semi Finals

There are some intriguing similarities between East Knox’s Bulldogs and Hiland’s Hawks, opponents in the District 15 OHSAA Division IV semi-final game on Thursday.

Both teams finished third in the regular season in their respective conferences, the Knox Morrow Athletic Conference (KMAC) for East Knox and the Inter-Valley Conference (South) for Hiland.

Both coaches are graduates of the high school programs where they lead today. Randy Baugher graduated from East Knox in 1975, and began coaching there in 2007. He became head baseball coach in 2017. One of his assistants, Chuck Melick, was also a Bulldog teammate.

Chris Dages played for Hiland, graduating from the school in 1998. He was junior varsity coach for the Hawks for 10 years, then was promoted to head coach for the 2018 season. They each have been coaching their own children over the years in various forms of organized baseball.

Both teams have several All Conference players. Hiland’s includes First Teamers Jared Hostetler and Reece Schlabach, Second Teamers Isaiah Miller and Derrick Troyer, and Honorable Mention Casey Lowe. East Knox’s top players include First Teamers Weston Melick and Bryar Householder, Second Teamer Sam Printz and Honorable Mention Peyton Lester. Melick was named to the All Ohio Team in 2019.

But there are a lot of differences too. Many Division IV baseball observers expected Hiland to be in this tournament, as it was State Champions in 2016 and has maintained an excellent program in the intervening years. Not so for East Knox, 15-12 on the season and making its first-ever appearance in the OHSAA Regional.

“We had eight talented seniors in 2020, and most of us thought that was going to be a memorable season,” Baugher recalls. “We figured 2021 would be a rebuilding year, and at one point we were 1-7 this spring. But this team has shown steady improvement, and the fact that the boys have just won their first District Championship has created a lot of community interest and excitement.”

Hiland, 26-4, has played excellently just about all season long. Winners of seven straight and 21 of their last 22 games, the Hawks exhibit a high level of consistency in every phase of the game.

“Pitching and defense have been the strongest part of our season. We have a deep rotation that does a fantastic job of attacking hitters and keeping them off balance,” Dages says. The defense has been playing very clean lately, not allowing any extra outs in an inning.

“The big surprise for us (Hiland) has been the way the guys have been hitting the ball in the playoffs,” he adds. “They have been taking strong approaches to the plate and have been seeing good results.”

These two teams have taken very different paths to the Regionals. Hiland has shut out all three of its opponents in Sectional and District play. East Knox clawed and scratched its way to victory into the District Final, coming from behind three times in the game to upend higher-seeded Berne Union 7-5 in eight innings on May 26. The Bulldogs pounded out 17 hits in that contest, more than Hiland mounted in its 2-0 victory over Shenandoah on May 24 and 3-0 triumph over Shadyside on May 27 combined.

Peyton Lester, Sam Printz and Carson Steinmetz all had four hits for East Knox in its two District games. As a team, the Bulldogs are at about 66 percent in the statistic of QAB or Quality At Bats (defined by what the batter does after two strikes or six pitches in the plate). That’s about double the QAB for Hiland.

The Hawks’ Reece Schlabach had three hits in the District Semi Final and Final games, but the big story for Hiland has been its pitching. District tournament starters Casey Lowe and Derrick Troyer combined for 13 2/3 scoreless inning of work on the mound in those games, yielding only seven hits.

What will it take for victory? Baugher wants his team to come out calm and steady vs. Hiland.

“Staying loose is a key for us,” he says. “We have to keep making the routine plays on defense, and then continue to put the ball in play when we’re at the plate.”

For the Hawks, Dages sees success against East Knox beginning with good leather on defense.

“We need to play clean defense, with no mental mistakes or errors,” he says. “We’ll need to limit the free passes from our pitching, and then simply execute at the plate. We’ll also need to capitalize when we get runners in scoring position.”
* * *

Paint Valley, Valley have more in common than identical records

Game One of the Region 15 OHSAA Div. IV Playoffs features two teams with identical records, 18-11, and similar paths to the tournament.

Paint Valley and Valley are traditionally strong baseball programs. Paint Valley was state champions in 1995, and is making its third appearance in the Regionals in the last seven years. Valley was state champs in 1975 and has for many years fielded superior teams in the Southeast District. World Series MVP Gene Tenace (1972) is its most famous baseball alumnus.

But when Covid-19 hit, both teams suffered from losing both senior leaders and the experience of competing in the 2020 season. Coaches had to adjust with using many student-athletes who had seen limited playing time prior to 2021.

“The biggest surprise for us is how quickly some of our players have ‘grown up’ this season,” says Nolan Crabtree, sixth-year coach of the Valley Indians. “We had only two players who were past varsity starters coming into the season. We are starting a freshman and multiple sophomores, along with a junior who had never seen varsity playing time until this year. The way we have competed and gotten better each game has been a great thing to see.”

Shayne Combs has been coaching for 26 years, 15 years as Paint Valley’s head coach. He has also seen excellent development from previously-inexperienced squad members for the Bearcats.

“One of the best parts of our success is that we had only one player with significant varsity experience at the beginning of the year,” he recalls. “It’s been rewarding to see how our guys have stayed with it and kept getting better. We were 11-11 a few weeks ago. Now we’re 18-11 and still playing. I’m really excited for the kids.”

Both coaches have a lot of respect for each other’s programs.

“Paint Valley is a tough opponent,” Crabtree says. “They are a small school in a tough conference, just like us. There are a lot of similarities.”

Combs feels the same was about the Indians. “Valley is an outstanding team, they are very complete,” he says. “They pitch and defend well, and are extremely well-coached. We will have to play a great game to have a chance to win.”

Valley placed fourth in the Southern Ohio Conference “II” division with a 9-6 record this season. But the Indians come in to the Region 15 tournament hot, winners of five straight.

Paint Valley finished 7th in the Scioto Valley Conference standings in 2021 with a deceptive 4-10 conference mark. It’s deceptive in that the Bearcats are now on a seven-game winning streak, and also have triumphed in eight out of their last nine games. For the Bearcats, excellent execution has been a key to success on the streak and – hopefully — in the tournament as well.

“We can’t give the free 90 (walks) and we need to play error free and find our cutoffs on opposing hits,” Combs says. “We have to execute offensively, taking advantage of opportunities when they arise. Our young guys also need to handle the stage and relax, but play hard.”

On offense, Beau Blankenship, Connor Free and Trent Mettler have been among Paint Valley’s leading hitters. Free notched four RBIs with a single and a double in the 9-8 District Final comeback victory over East Meigs on May 24. Blankenship had four hits and four RBIs in the two District games. Mettler has four hits in the last three contests.

The Bearcats’ senior pitching ace Brock Blanton will start against the Indians. Blanton has allowed only one earned run and struck out 22 batters while walking only two in 14 innings through his last two starts. Blanton will be playing and attending Eastern Kentucky Univ. in the fall.

For Valley, Crabtree will call on one of his two star sophomore pitchers – either George Arnett or Carter Nickel – to shut down the Bearcats. Arnett, a Southeast District First Team selection, has an 8-5 record and a 1.54 ERA. Nickel is also a Southeast District First Team player. He has a 5-1 mark with a microscopic 0.96 ERA and has punched out 66 opposing batters in 51 innings of work on the mound.

Four hitters paced the Indians in the District tournament. Christopher Queen had four hits in the tourney, with Jace Copley adding three hits and three RBIs. Andrew Andronis had three hits, a walk, and scored twice from his lead-off spot in the line-up. Hunter Edwards added two hits and 4 RBIs as well.

Crabtree is hoping his Indians accomplish three goals against Paint Valley.

“Our starting pitching has been the strong point of our squad al year, and that must continue,” he explains. We’ve played exceptional defense in the last few weeks, and we need to do that on Thursday also. And runs will be at a premium with the pitching staffs both teams have, so we will have to find a way to scratch together some runs without needing multiple hits.”

Don’t be surprised if the Indians vs. the Bearcats, the first of Region 15’s two Semi-Final games, turns out to be a low-scoring nail biter of a contest.

ABOUT BEAVERS FIELD 

Lancaster American Legion Post 11 operates Beavers Field. In recent times, the Ohio Sports Turf Managers Association and the High School Coaches Association have called it the Field of the Year. Beavers Field is a multi-purpose stadium which hosts a variety of high-profile events, including American Legion State Tournaments. It’s also home to the Ohio University – Lancaster Branch baseball team, and hosts 100+ high school and college games a year. According to a various websites, Beavers Field’s dimensions are 325 feet to the foul poles in Right and Left Fields, and 395 feet to the fence in Center Field. 

The street address (for your GPS or Map) is. 1651 Granville Pike, Lancaster, OH 43130 

The field’s website is:  https://www.beaversfield.com/beaversfieldhome

TICKETS 

To obtain tickets for the OHSAA Division 15 Regional Tournament games, visit the OHSAA web site linked below. Tickets are $12 apiece.  https://www.ohsaa.org/tickets

FAST FACTS ABOUT THE FOUR TEAMS IN THE OHSAA DIVISION IV, DISTRICT 15 REGIONAL TOURNAMENT

HILAND HAWKS: 26-4, winners of seven in a row and 12 of last 13.

HEAD COACH: Chris Dages, first year at the helm was 2018. Hiland is his alma mater.

LAST SCORED ON:  7th inning by Waynedale on May 21 (14 consecutive scoreless innings coming into Regionals)

LAST LOSS:  May 12, Garaway 8, Hiland 6

NO NOs:  Casey Lowe had a five inning no hitter in Hiland’s 10-0 Sectional win over Conotton Valley on May 19. Derrick Troyer had a five-inning perfect game (no one reaching base) in a 21-0 victory over Tuscarawas Central Catholic on May 1.

GOOSE EGGS TOO: In its Sectional game and two District games, Hiland’s hurlers and defense have yet to allow a opposing runner to cross home plate. Hiland’s combined score against those three opponents is 15-0.

BIGGEST OFFENSIVE INNING:  Hiland scored 13 runs in the fourth inning against Tuscarawas Central Catholic on May 1.

LAST TIME HILAND TRAILED IN A GAME: Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy scored a run in the first inning vs. Hiland on May 13 at Canal Park. The score stayed that way until the bottom of the third when Hiland took a 2-1 lead.

FIVE: Three Hiland hitters have notched 5 RBIs in a single game this year. Reece Schlabach did it in the Hawks’ 16-1 victory over Claymont on April 27. Isaiah Miller did it in Hiland’s 7-6 victory over Triway on April 20. Casey Lowe did it also on April 14 in the Hawks’ 12-0 victory over Ridgewood.

FIVE WITH FOUR: Schlabach, Miller (twice), Jared Hostetler, Casey Lowe (twice), and Grant Miller have each had a 4 RBI game this season as well.

BIGGEST GAME: Trailing 6-4 in the last of the seventh inning, Hiland rallied for three runs to defeat Triway 7-6 on April 20 at Canal Park. Isaiah Miller’s two on, two out double drove home the game tying and game winning scores for the Hawks.

PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Lowe (6-3, 2.23 ERA) or Troyer (10-0, 1.60 ERA) both seniors (ERA stats are through games as of May 21)

EAST KNOX: 15-12

HEAD COACH:  Randy Baugher, fifth season as head coach at his alma mater.

COMEBACK: East Knox overcame deficits three times in its nine-inning, 7-5 victory over Berne Union in its District Final on May 26. The Bulldogs pushed across three runs to break a 4-4 tie in the ninth inning of the game, then survived a Berne Union comeback attempt.

WIN STREAK:  East Knox comes into the tournament having won its last three games, and 11 of out its last 13 contests. This is the team’s first-ever appearance in the Regional Tournament.

BIG FINISH: Since beginning the season at 1-7, East Knox has played .737 baseball, winning 14 of its last 19 games.

HIGH RBIs:  Logan Adams had 5 RBIs, and Peyton Lester added four, when East Knox defeated Coshocton 17-7 o April 3. Bryar Householder had four RBIS in the Bulldogs’ April 14 13-3 victory over Eastmoor. Householder also drove home 3 RBIs in East Knox’s 12-2 victory over Loudonville on May 11. Weston Melick did the same when the Bulldogs beat Mt. Gilead 8-4 on April 28.  Peyton Lester notched 3 RBIs in East Knox’s 14-11 loss to Centerburg on April 20. Teddy Sears had 3 RBIs in East Knox’s 10-5 win over Centerburg on April 19.

HIGH SCORING: East Knox has been involved in six games where it and its opponents combined for 20 or more runs. The most recent was May 13, a 13-9 victory over Coshocton. The highest-scoring games were against Centerburg on April 20, a 14-11 Bulldog loss, which saw East Knox notch 15 hits. The Bulldogs outslugged Fairfield Christian Academy 17-8 in its season opener on March 19.  East Knox pounded out the most hits — 17 — in its 17-7 victory, also over Coshocton, on April 3.

GOOSE EGGS: East Knox has also been involved in four shutout games this season. It lost 10-0 to Newark Catholic on March 31, and 8-0 against Highland on April 5. Then it defeated Danville 10-0 on May 6, and beat Granville Christian Academy 13-0 on May 19. Bryar Householder (3 innings and the victory) and Sam Printz (two innings) were the pitchers combining for the shutout for East Knox.

PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS: Householder or Printz

VALLEY INDIANS: 18-11

HEAD COACH: Norman Crabtree, sixth season (began in 2016). Valley is Crabtree’s alma mater.

SHUTOUTS AND MORE: Valley’s pitchers have tossed shutouts in seven games this season, most recently a 10-0 win over Fairfield on May 18. George Arnett hurled the goose egg. Others were 7-0 over Whiteoak on May 12, 7-0 over Northwest on April 23, 1-0 over South Webster on April 19, 5-0 over Oak Hill on April 14, and 12-0 vs. Portsmouth West on April 9. Best of all was a 10-0 no hitter over Eastern (Beaver, OH) on April 7. Devon Wiley (3 innings) and Carter Nickel (2 innings) combined on the no-no.

LOW NUMBERS:  One team has scored 1 or 0 runs in 19 of Valley’s 29 games. Valley has lost three games by an opposing shout out, and scored just a single run in six games. Valley won a 1-0 nail biter of South Webster on April 19. Both teams scratched out only four hits each. Nickel earned the victory for the Indians, as Breckon Williams’ double drove home game’s only run.

WIN STREAK: Valley has won its last five consecutive games.

SOPHOMORE HURLERS: George Arnett (8-5, 1.54 ERA) and Carter Nickel (5-1, 0.96 ERA) are the two leading pitchers for the Indians. They’ve been involved in several shutouts (see above).

TOP HITTERS: In the two-game District Tournament, Christopher Queen had four hits, with Jace Copley adding three hits and three RBIs. Andrew Andronis had three hits, a walk, and scored twice from his lead-off spot in the line-up. Hunter Edwards added two hits and 4 RBIs as well.

PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Arnett (8-5, 1.54 ERA) OR Nickel (5-1, 0.96 ERA), both sophomores

PAINT VALLEY BEARCATS: 18-11

COACH:  Shayne Combs, 15 years as head coach

WIN STREAK: Paint Valley has won the last seven consecutive games.

ACE: Senior Brock Blanton will be attending Eastern Kentucky University on a baseball scholarship this fall. Blanton has allowed only one earned run and struck out 22 batters while walking just two in 14 innings through his last two starts.

LOW SCORING GAMES:  Paint Valley hurlers have tossed six shoutouts this season, most recently a 2-0 triumph over South Webster on May 18. Blanton struck out 10 and allowed only three hits that day. But the Bearcats have been on the losing side via shutout four times this season, and eight additional times Paint Valley has scored only one or two runs.

BEARCAT BATTERS:  Beau Blankenship, Connor Free and Trent Mettler have been among Paint Valley’s leading hitters. Free notched four RBIs with a single and a double in the 9-8 District Final comeback victory over East Meigs on May 24. Blankenship had four hits and four RBIs in the two District games. Mettler has four hits in the last three contests.

COMEBACKS: Eastern Meigs led host Paint Valley 5-0 in the middle of the third inning of the May 24 District Final contest. But the Bearcats posted nine runs in innings 3-4-5-6 to claim a 9-8 triumph and the title. Paint Valley has also registered come-from-behind victories over Lynchburg-Clay on April 15, 5-4, and Adena, also 5-4, on April 9. In the Adena contest, a walk-off RBI single from Devlen Spradlin was the game winner. Against Lynchburg-Clay, Dax Estep had three hits and stole three bases as well. Estep is a bit of an anomaly. He’s the Bearcats’ starting catcher, but occasionally takes the mound to pitch as well.

PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Blanton (graduated senior committed to pitching at Eastern Kentucky University)

FINAL NOTE: As of 6 a.m. on June 3, more than 800 people have gone online to view these stories since the first one went up late on June 1. Kudos to you, fans, parents, and followers of these fine four Division IV baseball programs! This is a volunteer effort, and John Kerezy is not receiving nor soliciting advertising or funding for this writing. We plan to have game stories on eyeoncleveland.com from Lancaster on June 4-5 as well, so keep your eyes on this space. Comments are welcome via email to Kerezy at john.kerezy@tri-c.edu

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