Jerry Kaup doesn’t believe his kids collapsed or folded under pressure, but he also knows Newark Catholic carries a big reputation and knows how to apply a stranglehold on the opposition’s psyche.
COLUMBUS — It was deja vu all over again, a repeat performance, a ‘Play It Again, Sam’ afternoon for the Fort Recovery baseball team in the Division IV state high school semifinals.
It was the same venue, Huntington Park in Columbus, against the same team, Newark Catholic, and it was pretty much Groundhog Day for Fort Recovery, the same as last year.
They lost by four runs last year and they lost by four again this year but this one had to feel worse for coach Jerry Kaup.
Against Newark Catholic last year the Indians were bound and gagged from start to finish, losing 4-0. never denting home plate.
This time they lost, 7-3, even though they grabbed a 2-0 first-inning lead and were tied, 3-3, after three innings.
The wheels not only fell off from there, the hubcaps went flying and they axle snapped in three places, especially in the fifth inning when the defending state Division IV champions scored four times.
The Indians made three errors, some disastrous base running faux pas and failed to convert an easy out on a suicide squeeze — all things they customarily perform without a pause for thought.
Maybe there was an Intimidation Factor involved here. Fort Recovery has never won a state baseball title and advanced to the finals just one time, back in the dark ages of 1953. Meanwhile, Newark Catholic is one victory away from its ninth state title and this year would make it three in the last four years.
“We definitely gave it away,” said Kaup, who amazingly took his team’s disheartening defeat with dignity and aplomb. “I can’t blame it on the big stage. We’ve played in some big venues, had some big, big games, many of them in our league.”
Kaup doesn’t believe his kids collapsed or folded under pressure, but he also knows Newark Catholic carries a big reputation and knows how to apply a stranglehold on the opposition’s psyche.
“When they are able to put the pressure on that they are capable of putting on, well, they don’t do anything spectacular,” he said. “They are very solid, play ball and waited for us to implode. They use their reputation that way. Our kids read all the papers and they see that stuff about them. It was unfortunate because you have to be able to handle what happens and not worry about them, not worry about the crowd and not worry about where you are.”
Easily said, not so easily accomplished.
Fort Recover starting pitcher Nick Thwaits opened the bottom of the first with a single and Cade Wendel bunted him to second. Jacob Homan doubled for a run and Hunter Boughman singled him home to make it 2-0.
And things were progressing swimmingly.
The seams started to fray in the Newark Catholic third when Tanner Lake opened the inning with a bunt single. Mitch Lohr singled to put two on with no outs. NC’s John Erhard rolled a perfect double play ball up the middle but the Indians failed to convert it and an error filled the bases with no outs.
Fort Recovery retired the next two and it looked as if the Indians would escape the bases loaded and no-out indignity. But Nick Cavinee singled to center for two runs and a 2-2 tie. It lasted only until a wild pitch permitted Newark Catholic to take a 3-2 lead.
Fort Recovery recovered from that problem and tied the game, 3-3, in the bottom of the third, but could have scored many more. They made two outs on the base paths with aggressive but foolhardy baserunning.
“We were trying to be aggressive on the bases and they caught us, so that’s my fault,” said Kaup, taking some of the heat off his team.
The determinator came in the fifth inning when the seams burst and the threads went flying.
And it started with one out and nobody on. Caving singled, Claggett singled. Jackson Hobbs replaced Thwaits on the mound for Fort Recover and Tyler York punched his first pitch to right field for a run-scoring single and a 4-3 lead.
Jody Mummey dropped a suicide squeeze bunt right back to pitcher Hobbs and he had Claggett at home — except his attempt to scoop and toss didn’t work. He missed the scoop part and Claggett scored to make it 5-3.
Then came a stolen base on which there was an error and two more runs crossed the plate and just like that it was 7-3.
“Nick (Thwaits) threw well, we just didn’t give him enough support in the background,” said Kaup. “They did a great job of getting their leadoff guys on base each inning (five of the seven innings). That allows them to do a lot of different things — bunt and steal and do all the things that create a lot of havoc. And we did get a little rattled a couple of times and, maybe, want to do more, try to make too big of a play, do too much, then we get in trouble.”
Then Indians have had two tastes of the Division IV semifinals for two straight years and would like to come back. They’d probably like a third crack at Newark Catholic but maybe they’d also like to try somebody else and save Newark Catholic for the state finals.