Motivated by last year’s regional heartbreak, Dave King and the Lehman Cavaliers see daylight and another opportunity at the end of this year’s Division IV tournament tunnel.
In the seventh inning of Wednesday afternoon’s second-round game with Springfield Catholic Central Lehman coach Dave King was pacing the floor of the Cavaliers’ dugout, talking to himself (or anyone who wanted to listen) out loud.
“Guess I’m a little nervous,” he said, forcing a smile.
Nervous? The Cavs head a commanding 9-0 lead, needing just one more out to move on to this weekend’s sectional finals.
Nervous? King had Ashland University-bound senior Alex Smith on the mound, shutting out the Irish on just three hits, with 10 strikeouts.
Nervous? You bet. Dave King still remembers the seventh inning of another game, exactly 50 weeks prior…the 2011 regional final game with Minster in Springfield when the Cavaliers had a three run lead and needed three outs to get to the state tournament in Columbus. And they could not get it done!
But alas, they did get it done Wednesday. Smith finished off the final out of the game with his eleventh strikeout, the Cavs improved to 20-5 on the season, and everything seem to be in the right order…if there is such a thing in baseball. Because, this all came on the same day that #1-seed and state-ranked Bethel lost to Covington, 5-3. So let’s say it again. Nervous?
Ask any of King’s five senior players this year and you’ll get varying and different answers to the question of a 2011 regional hangover entering the 2012 sectional tournament.
“Not so much a hangover, but a big motivation to get back there,” says first baseman/outfielder D.J. Hemm. “That was a tough loss. It haunted me for a while, but not any more. It’s over and something you have to put behind you.”
“It’s part of the past,” added fellow senior Ben Weber. “We have a lot of guys who were there, but this is really a different team this year. I don’t think about it. I just want to get back and get another shot at Minster.”
The details of that game should be haunting. Up three runs after a stirring comeback of their own, Lehman pitchers (multiple) simply could not throw strikes…five walks in the seventh inning, aiding an eventual Minster comeback and win.
“If anything it was a motivation for me to come back over the summer and work on my pitching,” says Weber, who follows Alex Smith as the Cavs’ #2 option on the mound. I’m more confident now, and in a better position to help my team this year. It really doesn’t matter who we have to play, I like our chances this time if we can get back there.”
Definition of a hangover?
Well, one source states that it’s the result of overindulgence in too much of a bad (or good) thing, as in something you drink, eat, or suffer through emotionally.
Another…a not-so-pleasant reminder of something you shouldn’t have done.
Alex Smith wasn’t at his best Wednesday, but he was more than good enough to win and he’s been more than good enough over the course of the year to provide some hangovers of his own. Featuring a mid to high-80s fastball and a devastating curveball when he’s on, he alone could navigate Lehman back to that wish-for opportunity about which Ben Weber spoke.
With plenty of offensive pop provided by Weber, Hemm, Andrew Gilardi, and A.J. Hemmelgarn, the middle of the Cavs’ batting order, the issue, as King will tell you, boils down to pitching, pitching, and then a little more pitching for good measure. You cannot have enough.
Nervous? Alex Smith remembers last year…the Minster game…very, very well.
“That was very hard,” he admitted Wednesday. “I’d say it lasted just about all last summer, through Legion ball, and up until the beginning of this season. It really doesn’t haunt me, but it is a lot of motivation. Right now we’re thinking about the present, not the past. We’re thinking about the next game.”
Dave King will tell you that it “is” a different Lehman team in 2012, a team that’s very loose, very confident in their own abilities with three college-bound athletes (Hemm to Ohio Wesleyan, Smith to Ashland, and Weber to Defiance), and a group that has great clubhouse dynamics. They get along well with each other.
And, he’ll tell you that there is such a thing as “karma” in baseball…in all sports.
“I’ve thought a lot about the seventh inning of that game over the past year,” he said after win #20 on Wednesday. ” A lot. My wife and I are Christians and we believe that there’s always a plan…that things happen for a reason. Last year was Minster’s year, and I give them a lot of credit for the way they came back to win that game and then go on to win the state. But maybe there’s a plan for us this year. Maybe this is our year.
“There’s some things I would have done different, and there’s some things that I think that could have been different in that game. When two teams have 20 walks in a regional game, combined, you have to wonder if the pitching was as that bad or the strike zone was that tight…for both teams? These are high school players. I would probably have managed our pitching differently in that inning if I could do it again. But you can’t do it again. You have to move on and play for the present. This is a good group. They’re fun, they’re loose, and they’re playing. If you’d have told me after last year that we’d come back to win more games than we did then…I’d take it.
Pausing for a moment, he added.
“It’s all about pitching. You know that. We have three, maybe four arms available, but for the last two weeks and going forward now it’s all Alex and Weber.”
Three runs and three outs from a state title. By definition, a not-so-pleasant reminder of something that should never have happened.
“But it did,” adds senior Andrew Gilardi. “We were this close. It bothers me still. We were that close to getting to the state tournament and the team that beat us ended up winning it.”
A not-so-pleasant reminder!
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