The Troy Trojans did what no one thought possible a scant six weeks ago. They won the GWOC North title and did it the hard way with a two-game sweep of Piqua…with pitching, team defense and timely hitting.
Relative to Wednesday afternoon’s 7-3 win over Piqua to win the GWOC North baseball championship, you can truthfully say that it had been a long time between Trojan titles.
21 years in fact…1991. Pitching coach Heath Murray anchored the pitching staff on that team, and truthfully, it came during an era of Troy baseball when people would have laughed at you if you’d told them it would be 21 years before they won another.
But that’s exactly what it took…21 years and ultimately a group of kids that few believed capable of breaking such an ignominious string of futility. But more about that in a moment.
Picking up in the bottom of the second inning from Tuesday’s rain delay, Troy struck for three earned runs in the bottom of the third, the big blow an rbi triple by shortstop Dylan Cascaden, who continues to play in the closing days of the season as if his pants are on fire.
They added another run in the fifth, three more of the unearned variety in the sixth, and then turned the ball over to first baseman/closing artist Nate Helke to nail down the biggest win in a generation…perhaps the most complete “team” title in the recent history of Troy sports, a 7-3 win over Piqua for the championship.
Everyone contributed, regardless of age, experience, or the lack thereof.
Sophomore pitcher Ben Langdon came back 24 hours after yesterday’s delay to pitch 3 2/3 innings of four-hit baseball. For one so young, and with so much on the line, he showed no nerves whatsoever, pounding the strike zone, content to let his defense make plays behind him.
Cascaden’s bat and blend of leadership from shortstop was apparent, as it has been for the past month.
Third baseman Nick Antonides rammed a double to right center in the fifth, scored, and played solid defense.
Devin Blakely almost made his second circus catch in as many days against Piqua in the sixth, but the ball was ruled a no-catch when he failed to release his diving attempt with a “voluntary” action. Didn’t matter, though. His play characterized that of a team that was loose, prepared, and confident in their ability to win when winning meant the most.
For Piqua, it was another matter. On the heels of their second consecutive successful season under coach Jared Askins, they were anything but relaxed and confident. While Troy played with a purpose, the Indians sought any breakthrough they could find.
Good pitching can do that to you, and no one would have dreamed six weeks ago that on April 30th and May 2nd the Troy Trojans would have gotten the kind of consecutive performances delivered from Devon Alexander and Ben Langdon in their sweep over Piqua.
“We started out doing it by committee at the beginning,” said Heath Murray following Wednesday’s win. “But somewhere in the middle of the year things began to change. We knew that Alexander would compete and be what he’s been, but I never dreamed that Cody Fuller would pitch as much as he did and win four games for us.
“Langdon was great. For a sophomore to do what he did today. He throws strikes and we have him back for two more years. Antonides has pitched for us off and on. Cam Weaver, Kendall, and Helke. They’ve really come along. We’re not what we started out to be. If you’d told me back then we’d have 17 wins I would have been very happy.”
“This is really special,” said Cascaden, a junior who plays basketball and baseball. “I’ve been playing with these guys forever, and this was really special because we did it basketball this year, and tonight we did it in baseball.”
Jordan Price, like Cascaden, shared in both.
“It’s amazing,” added Price. “First time in eight years in basketball, and now the first time in 21 years in baseball. We weren’t even born the last time they won in baseball. It was Coach Murray’s senior year, so this one’s for him. We really have something to celebrate and that’s what we’re going to do.”
“There are no individuals on this team,” said Devin Blakely, another junior who from the bottom of the batting order has come up with big at bats during the past two weeks. “That’s how we accomplished this…as a team. That was our goal, to win GWOC, and we did it.”
Literally, no one believed eight weeks ago that it was possible, a 17-8 record with a team so young and inexperienced on the mound, and one dependable anchor in the middle of the batting order, Nate Helke.
“We thought we could do it,” said Troy coach Ty Welker. “It’s always our goal to win the GWOC and after the Vandalia wins we realized that we had our destiny in our own hands. We’re not pretty, and that’s a tribute to this team. We have to scrap for runs, we make things happen and we put pressure on the other team to make plays. We’re hitting under .300 as a team. We’re not proud of that, but it doesn’t matter. We put runs on the board, we’ve gotten some good pitching, and we play defense. We’re a heckuva’ good defensive team.”
A working man’s title. Nothing pretty about it…nothing over the top by any means. 21 years after their last title who would have been surprised if Welker had gotten the modern custom of a pie in the face for such a significant milestone. But no, the only thing in a pan was the offer of a celebratory chocolate brownie from Devin Blakely, which Welker turned down.
Needing to win both games over Piqua…the fact of the Trojans playing with the confidence of a team that’s accustomed to winning:
Jordan Guillozet: “We just prepared ourselves mentally for this. We knew we were a better team than people believed we were. We came out to win. It’s been 20 years and we were ready. The seniors wanted to go out with a bang.”
Nick Antonides: “No one at the beginning of the year thought we were going to do this. But we worked hard during the winter, we’re still working hard, and if we make plays and stay focused we can play with a lot of people. We can beat a lot of people.”
Devon Alexander: “We really are a team. We know that one one guy can do it every day, so it seems like someone different always comes along to pick us up. That’s what we did tonight. We weren’t outstanding. It was just five, six, or seven players that did something to help us win.”
And for the record…take nothing away from a Piqua team that’s suffered its own shortfall for an almost identical period to that of Troy baseball.
But the Indians’ program has made tremendous strides under Jared Askins, with solid numbers and enthusiasm for baseball the likes of that seen during the glory days of Jim Hardman’s and Rick Gold’s tenure as coaches. Baseball again matters at Piqua. The two game series with Troy was an unfamiliar scenario… the pressure of winning for a title. But there will be titles.
The appreciation for which comes in many forms and many perspectives.
“The best thing about this is they won’t have to hear me tell how it’s been since my senior year…the last time we won a league title,” grinned Heath Murray. “But hey, these guys really earned it.”
A working man’s title…a team title!
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