Prep Baseball Report

ABC's of the OHSAA State Tournament

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By: Bruce Hefflinger
PBR Ohio

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ABC's of the OHSAA State Tournament

COLUMBUS – Attending the state baseball tournament goes back as far as 1992 for me. An eighth consecutive trip brought memories like the others.

Three days of outstanding competition is now at an end. The 2017 high school baseball campaign is in the rear-view mirror and we look ahead to the coming year with anticipation. It starts with summer baseball, showcases, work outs etc.

But before our focus comes fully on that, let's visit the ABCs of this year's tournament. There are no Ds or Fs here, when you are one of the final 16 teams in the state, you have earned at least a C. Here is a look, in reverse order – saving the best for last.

Grade: C

Teams like Massillon Jackson and Minster used the small ball for success on the field in Saturday's state championship games. But I was beginning to wonder what took so long. In reality, there were numerous attempts to use the bunt game the first day of the tourney with little success. It improved as the tourney went on, but the ability to bunt is something players badly need to work on to add another weapon to their game. Just watch the NCAA baseball tournament currently going on and see how important that dimension of the game is at the next level.

Coaches are in the third-base box for a reason. Unfortunately, many times the players failed to use their coach and read his decision until it was too late. Players either slowed down to see what was going on or even stopped after rounding second. Gentlemen, when a ball is hit behind you to right pick up the coach as you approach second base. Not doing that proved costly on more than one occasion, with runs left out on the bases. Games are won and lost on the little things.

Emotion is always part of the game but players and opposing fans trying to show the other up is not a good thing. For the fans, learn how to encourage your team rather than discourage the opponent. For the player – and I know it's not easy as a teenager to do this – try to ignore the hecklers. Keep your focus on the game and what you can do to help out your team.

Grade: B

Half of the dozen games were one-run affairs and nearly everyone came down to the very end. The importance of backing up plays is big, even more vital in the tight games like took place at Huntington Park. Pitchers had their moments of doing this well, but a number of them need improvement. As one coach said to his pitcher, it reflects on the team.

The crowds on Saturday earned a C, it improved to B on Friday and finished with an A, thus the B grade. The largest was the Division IV finale between Minster and Russia. The most fans by one team was Massillon Jackson in the D-I final, followed closely by Olentangy Orange in the D-I semifinal. From only a crowd perspective, it would have been interesting to see Jackson and Orange in the finals. It more than likely would have set a state attendance record – if there was such a thing.

One area of the game not used as much as in the past was the stolen base. With the catchers in this year's field, it is no wonder the steal was missing to a degree. But check out these numbers: there were 18 steals on 24 attempts in this year's tourney with three games of no steal attempts for either team. A year ago those numbers were 29 of 38. And here's an interesting fact, in both Hiland state games last year and both this year neither team attempted to steal a base.

Grade: A

If catching is your thing, the state tournament was the place to be this weekend. From Dillon Dingler to Parker Shannon to Nolan Clegg and on and on, this year's group as a whole was probably the best ever at one state tourney. And keep in mind one of the top backstops – Keegan Fish of Lakota West – was injured and only had a pinch hit performance, his only plate appearance of the entire 2017 season.

A salute to Tim Stried, Jerry Snodgrass and company for another well run tournament. The OHSAA does such a wonderful job of making the event first class. On a side note, making it more fun are ushers like “Bob” in the media section of the stands. Always smiling and cordial, “Bob” was a great addition to the tourney for members of the media in attendance.

There are so many things that make playing at state so great. Communities coming together, programs starting or continuing a tradition, players and coaches being rewarded for all the hard work … the list is endless. The excitement during each and every game, from fans cheering to players hugging and high-fiving, is so great to see in a time when away from the park so many things in this world are focused on the negative. At this year's tourney the highlight for me – someone neutral to all the action – was seeing the emotion of Minster head coach Mike Wiss after his Wildcats won the Division IV state championship. When the burly mentor, with eyes turning red, went over to pick up his son (he appeared to be around 10) who was smiling from ear to ear – the sight was priceless. When dad put his youngster back on the ground the little one used his shirt to wipe away the tears in his eyes. You could see the love. That is what high school baseball is all about.