Top-seeded and impressive through their regular season record, like a cycling comet the Bethel Bees are back and people again want to know…how good are they?
It was exactly six years ago. You may remember.
Led by names like Derek Goins, Mike Kley, Greg Cornish and Tony Phillips, the Bethel Bees stunned the Miami Valley in Division IV baseball by sweeping through the sectionals, district, regional, and reaching the state Final Four for the third time in the school’s history.
You may remember, as well, how people were scrambling about at the time, asking the question, “The Bethel Bees? How good are they…really?”
Now, sitting on an 18-3 regular-season record, seeded first in the sectional tournament, and loaded with senior talent, coach Brett Brookhart smiled at the irony Tuesday afternoon when again we asked…how good “are” the Bethel Bees?
It is a decidedly different cast.
The role of pitcher(s) from the 2006 teams, Goins and Cornish, are now being played by seniors Jon Ellerbrock and Luke Veldman.
And the sticks on the 2012 version of the Bees are decidedly more potent than that team from six years ago.
“We have some guys in the middle of our lineup who can thump the ball,” assures Brookhart, whose classroom at Bethel has a 20×30 inch framed photo of the runner-up ring designed awarded the Bees in 2006. For incentive, perhaps. They came within a half inning, a misplayed fly ball and a worn out Derek Goins on the mound of beating heavily favored Newark Catholic in the championship game. They lost in the bottom of the seventh, 3-2.
“Jordan Elam, Colin Hoke, and Joey Serrer. Between them they have something like 8 home runs on the season. But I’ll tell you…if we were still using the old aluminum bats they’d have a whole lot more,” smiled Brookhart.
Like the comet Khoutek, who appears periodically, something like every hundred years, Bethel seems to periodically cycle back to the top of area Division IV baseball. Most surely, it doesn’t take them a century…more like, well, every eight to ten years.
Frosty Brown did it twice at Bethel, making it to the state tournament during his coaching tenure in 1984 and 1997. Brookhart would love to follow suit.
“We’re playing with a lot of confidence, and that’s due to our having a lot of senior experience (6) on this team,” says Brookhart. “And, it would be great to get a good confidence win out of the gate in the tournament. Unfortunately, it looks like we might be playing Covington Wednesday, and we’ve always struggled with them…even on years when we’re better than them. Again, I think it’s a matter of confidence.”
The Bees will get that opportunity early, as Brookhart wished for. Covington, after a sluggish start against Houston Monday, came back after a rain delay to beat the Wildcats Tuesday, 5-2…needing a three-run fifth to overcome an early 2-0 deficit.
An omen for Brookhart and Bethel…Covington coach Mitch Hirsch burned his best pitcher Tuesday and will have Steven Blei for a maximum of three innings against the formidable Bees lineup if needed on Wednesday.
“You know we win games, but we usually don’t blow people away,” smiled Brookhart. “It seems like we do what we have to do and when we need to do it to win.”
The knock on Bethel from observers in the area…the lack of competition they face in the Cross County Conference, a point that Brookhart concedes, but disputes, as well.
“There are some good baseball teams in our league. East is 16-3. Tri-Village had a very good year. Tri-County North and Arcanum were two of our three losses. Those are four pretty good baseball teams, and our other loss came against Southeastern, and they may be the best team we’ve seen so far in Division IV.
“We do what we need to do fundamentally. At times good…at times spotty,” says Brookhart. “Our pitching has been very good with Ellerbrock and Veldman (combined record of 14-2). Ellerbrock throws the hardest (67 strikeouts in 41 innings) of the two and has a good breaking pitch. When he throws it for strikes he can be dominating…devastating. He has a no-hitter this year against Mississinawa and almost no-hit another team.”
The Bees are good enough to have drawn the attention of the top coaches in their Division, for sure…those who have made it a point to either see them in person, or at least ask.
Ft. Loramie’s Bill Sturwold has shown up twice.
Russia’s Rick Gold knows a little bit about them.
And Minster’s Mike Wiss simply asks…have you seen Bethel, and how good are they?
“Their pitching is very strong and they can score runs. The middle of their order is pretty tough,” says another Division IV rival who lost to the Bees earlier in the year. “If they have a weakness it’s probably their defense. How well can they make the routine play when it’s the difference between winning and losing in the tournament?”
They’re going to find out soon enough, beginning with Covington, on Wednesday, at home. Mitch Hirsch can only hope that history continues to be on his side.
“Maybe we get them when they’re not at their best,” he said after the Buccs’ opening round win on Tuesday. “But they’re good…very good.”
Which goes a long way in answering the cyclical question.
He was talking about Bethel, of course.