A successful journey to the “Sweet Sixteen” and the “Elite Eight” in high school baseball is a goal of every team in Ohio. But such a venture may have to deal with unusual twists and turns along the way.
In addition, overcoming obstacles “to get through” the regional tournament has been well documented by a couple area Division IV programs.
The “third” meeting of the season between two local rivals, Russia and Fort Loramie, was the biggest and most important one, each of the last two springs.
In 2022, the Russia Raiders thumped the Fort Loramie Redskins in the Elite Eight, or regional championship, to advance to Akron, before taking the D-IV state crown. In 2021, Fort Loramie handled Russia for the region title to reach the state tourney, before being nipped in a state semifinal.
If the two clubs collide in the tournament this year, the third and long-awaited battle would have to take place in the “scheduled region semifinal” on June 1. This year’s tourney template is not configured to allow a meeting in the final on June 2.
Another oddity is even more surprising. In the spring of 2021 and 2022, a different school from Lancaster joined the Raiders and Redskins at Princeton, the regional site, after choosing Central District I or Central District II. One led to the southwest regional and one fed the nearby Lancaster, or southeast, regional. The Lancaster schools — Fairfield Christian and Fisher Catholic — opted for the path through Russia and Fort Loramie. And those obstacles were far too much to overcome.
That was an unusual twist, for sure. Lancaster schools didn’t play in Lancaster; they played in northern Cincinnati.
This year, a unique turn in the tournament setup “requires” the central district champ to head to the southwest regional, because all 18 central district schools are lumped into one, single district.
So, in 2023, the two Lancaster schools, perennial power Newark Catholic, Mechanicsburg, seven Christian schools and several additional D-IV programs in Franklin County and nearby counties will all compete for a spot in this June’s “Springfield” regional, which replaces Princeton. Carleton Davidson Stadium has been bypassed since 2019 because of water drainage issues that year which resulted in the tournament getting moved to Coldwater.
The sectional tourney draws around the state take place this Sunday afternoon. The day before the draw, ScoresBroadcast.com will offer game coverage on Saturday at 9:25 a.m. when Russia hosts Fort Recovery in the first of a doubleheader. It’s “play ball” at 10 a.m. Jack Kramer and Chuck McBee are on the call.
The D-IV “north sectionals,” No. 3 and No. 4, in the southwest district may be the most competitive in quite some time. Thirteen schools are set to hit the diamonds on May 15 and 17 in postseason action. Russia and Fort Loramie have combined for 31 victories heading into play on Friday. Chief challengers Bradford and Newton have produced 33 triumphs.
Newton edged Bradford, 3-2, on Thursday. Bradford handed St. Henry a 3-2 loss last Friday.
The brackets detail that D-IV southwest district semifinals and finals are slated for May 22 and 24.
Speaking of “the draws,” there is no longer a mystery about which district champs advance to which regionals. The Ohio High School Athletic Association revealed its “regional and state tournament draws” in a tournament draw link earlier this week on the initial baseball page at the OHSAA website.
These draws, or brackets, can change from year to year because the OHSAA has “to make the math work.” Strange, but very true. Here’s how…
The six district governing boards — southwest, northwest, northeast, central, east and southeast — must produce a total of 16 district winners in baseball each May to provide an even number of four schools for the four regional tournaments.
But 16 divided by 6 equals 2 2/3, and not 4. Thus some districts, which are top heavy in the number of schools in a particular division, have to generate more than four district champs, and a few have to generate less than four. In fact, in D-I a couple have none.
In the northeast district, for example, an overload of D-I baseball programs necessitates that the NE board stages “six” of the 16 statewide districts. The winners of districts at St. Ignatius and Strongsville high schools not only leave the NE region, but they must travel all the way to Bowling Green where one or the other plays in a northwest region final on June 2.
Likewise, D-IV schools will put their GPS units to work in several weeks. In this division, the northwest district also holds “six” of the 16 district tourneys. The district venues are as far south as Coldwater, as far north and west as Bryan and Hamler Patrick Henry HS, and as far north and east as Clyde, Galion and Mansfield.
And guess what? This spring the Clyde winner is sent to the northeast regional and the Galion champ heads all the way down to Lancaster, or the southeast regional, for, unofficially, the first time ever.
In route to Lancaster, the Galion winner will make its twists and turns on the roadway through a number of towns in the very central part of the state where schools are vying for a berth in the southwest regional at Springfield.
Crazy, right? But the math clicks, even if your head spins a little bit trying to follow.
The Coldwater district, where the D-IV Midwest Athletic Conference programs compete, produces a champ this spring that stays put in the northwest and plays in the four-team Elida regional. So, again, for the third straight year, a MAC school can’t advance to the southwest regional.
In 2019, the MAC last sent a district winner to Springfield, and not the northwest regional site. Minster won back-to-back games and advanced to the state tourney.
Well, that regional was supposed to be in Springfield, but the stadium field couldn’t soak up incessant rains. Coldwater in the “northwest” district hosted the “southwest” regional instead. Thus, another quirk was created in the recent history of tournament baseball in this part of the state.
By the way, St. Henry from the MAC and Fort Loramie met in the southwest regional at Monroe High School way back in 1999 and again at Wayne High School in Huber Heights in 2000. St. Henry, led by long-time coach John Dorner, won the state championship each year. Fort Loramie then ousted St. Henry in the 2002 region final at Wayne.
In 2005, Jackson Center downed New Bremen from the MAC in a region semifinal, also at Wayne.
And in Minster’s back-to-back title years of 2011 and 2012, two Mike Wiss-coached teams knocked off the Lehman Catholic Cavaliers in the regional, which by then had moved to Springfield.
Fort Loramie whipped Minster in the 2018 Clark County regional before taking home all the marbles in the final four at Huntington Park in Columbus.
So, you see, a Shelby County program and one from the MAC have frequently tangled over a period of a few decades in the Sweet Sixteen, with the math coming out just fine.
The OHSAA also made the numbers work in 1991 when an MAC school reached the state tourney by streaking through the “northwest” region, and not the southwest, and then played a club from Shelby County for the state crown. A few of us may have researched once upon a time or perhaps recalled that Mike Shumm’s Parkway club upended Wayne Shoffner’s Lehman squad in the small school title game.
If the MAC and a southwest sectional team lock horns this year, it will have to be at the state tourney in Akron. Like 32 years ago, it happened most recently just six years ago when Minster slipped past Russia, 2-1, in the D-IV title tilt.
According to the OHSAA, this year’s D-IV southwest region winner plays the northwest region winner in a state semifinal on Thursday, June 8, at 4 p.m.
Four divisions in baseball have not always been in place. The first year for Class A, AA and AAA, or three classifications, was in 1971 when Russia won the championship after besting Botkins in the regional at Urbana.
In fact, Urbana is the closest to Shelby County a predetermined regional has ever been selected. Indeed, Springfield, Monroe, Princeton and, by a few miles, Huber Heights are further, but not nearly as far away as regional locations for some northwest and northeast schools.
That 1971 season was no different when Class AAA created a Columbus regional that included a contest between Findlay and Portsmouth high schools from opposite corners of the state.
Bizarre? Yes. And, for many, this Sweet Sixteen matchup over 50 years ago seems a little ridiculous.
But the state made the math work then, like it does in 2023.