The second baseman on last year’s Minster state champions, UD’s Craig Purpus has his eye on this week’s Division IV regional tournament…and his heart and spirit with his former teammates.
It’s one of the hardest things to do in all of sport. That is, to repeat as an ultimate champion, state, national, or professional.
Particularly hard to do at the high school level. Lots of things can happen to a team from one year to the next, not the least of which is graduation. Players come, players go…the natural order of things.
You have to be good, yes. But you have to be lucky. And no one understands that better than the 2011 Division IV state baseball champions, the Minster Wildcats. Sitting just over the .500 mark at the halfway point of last season, Mike Wiss’s Wildcats caught lightning in a bottle, to borrow on the well-worn phrase.
They came together as a team…pitching, offense, defense, and sound senior leadership…battling their way through an extended winning streak at the end of the season. They swept through the sectional tournament, the district, regional, and all the way to the state Final Four where they knocked off six-time state champion Newark Catholic in an epic semi-final game before beating Springfield Local High School (Mahoning County) in the Division IV championship.
For Wiss, it capped an 18-year wait and a lot of frustrating shortfalls along the way.
For second senior second baseman Craig Purpus, it was merely the highlight of his 18-year-old life…the first baseball title in the history of his school, the first in the history of Auglaize County.
Heady stuff…state champions, the first to do it, the parades, and unforgettable in the hearts of all who witnessed. Purpus had but one regret. He graduated. He couldn’t do it again.
“You never get tired of feeling like a champion,” he said after last year’s win. “You never get tired of being a champion. It’s something you’d like to do again, over and over and over.”
That was then, this Thursday is NOW. And as fate would have it, the Wildcats return to the regional round of the tournament to face Southeastern, out of Clark County, in the second semi-final game (5 PM on Press Pros streaming audio) at Wittenberg University.
A year removed and now a member of the University of Dayton men’s golf team, Craig Purpus his reliving wish to go through it again…vicariously…through some of his former teammates and some new faces who now feel the same pressure that Purpus experienced a year ago.
Over the weekend he shared some thoughts on that experience.
“I really haven’t had an opportunity to see them,” said Purpus. “With the schedule I have at school I haven’t had a lot of contact with Coach (Wiss) or the team. I have talked with some of the guys when I’ve been home, just reminding them of how talented they are as a team. And I remind of them of last year…that anything can happen, so the approach of winning every inning is extremely important at this time.”
He teamed last year with sophomore Devon Poeppelman to form an almost airtight middle infield defense, a key component to their march to the title, and particularly in their 6-0 title win over Springfield.
Staked to an early lead, Purpus and Poeppelman combined for eight assists and putouts through the last five innings of the game, 30% of the Wildcats’ defense.
This year, Poeppelman is back at shortstop, a year wiser, and as a seasoned member of what many believe to be the strength of the 2012 team, it’s pitching staff.
“I’ve only seem them play once this year,” says Purpus. “But I do see a lot of similarities between the two teams. Obviously the pitching is very good and all back from last year, a year more experience for Doug (Huber) Adam (Niemeyer) and Austin (Knapke). I see the seniors taking the same role that we did last year. When you have a mix of old and young guys it’s the seniors’ job to keep everyone loose. What made last year so special was how much fun we had playing as a team. I see this team being very similar in that repsect.”
In age some of this year’s upperclassmen are still very young. #1 pitcher Adam Niemeyer is still just a junior. Poeppelman, a junior. But still, the added year is what Purpus points to as being a difference maker…the added extra needed to get through this week’s regionals and on to next week’s Final Four in Columbus.
“Coach Wiss always reminded us that you’re only as good as your seniors. And for the first dozen games last year our seniors weren’t very good, and it showed in our record. But we did want to win. We wanted to win, bad, even when we didn’t play our best. During our run at the end of that season we found a way to win more than once. But it wasn’t just the seniors. Seniors can take some credit, but it was the blend of everyone on that team. You can’t look past anyone and the importance of their contribution to our success.”
Now a member of the Flyers’ golf team, Purpus competes and plays to a higher collegiate standard, yes, but still, with many of the same skills and much of the same attitude he employed as a member of last year’s baseball champions.
“If I were to give any advice for Thursday it would be to remember how fortunate you are to be in that position…to play for a chance to go back to Columbus. Everything is better from this point on. You play on better fields and the support from the Minster community made last year’s experience that much more special.
“They’re going to be nervous at the start, but at the end of the day it’s just another baseball game. After a couple of innings you settle down and play with a purpose. I know they’ll handle the situation as well as anyone can.”
And would he like to be back…to be there in uniform for Thursday’s game?
For that I have no answer from Craig Purpus. I didn’t think to ask. But I think we know!
A hundred-year tradition of great food and great service to the Shelby County community, the Spot is proud to sponsor local sports and coverage of the 2012 state baseball tournament on Press Pros.