AKRON — In a Division-IV baseball state semi-final that could have been called the state championship game a day ahead of schedule, Fort Loramie (28-4) was edged out by Warren John F. Kennedy, 3-2, on Saturday afternoon.
Warren JFK (21-6) cruised to the state title on Sunday night, blanking Van Wert Lincolnview (24-9) on five hits, 4-0, behind its number three starting pitcher who relieved from the bullpen in JFK’s regional title victory.
Playing at Akron’s Canal Park, the home of the Rubber Ducks— a AA-affiliate of the Cleveland Indians— the Redskins couldn’t get their bunt and run scheme on track. Why? One, they played from behind over their last four at-bats, and, two, they couldn’t produce a single base runner during the first 2 1/2 innings of a scoreless start to the game.
JFK freshman catcher Caleb Hadley, who just turned 15 years old, crushed a mammoth two-run double some 320 feet to left field to plate the last two of the three third-inning runs that proved to be the difference in the contest.
At that point, left-hander Derek Meyer spelled Caeleb Meyer on the bump for Fort Loramie and finished the game with 3 1/3 innings of shutout baseball. He closed out the final 5 1/3 versus Russia in the region final.
Fort Loramie tallied single runs in the fourth and seventh frames, and had the tying run parked at second base in the final inning when the third out was recorded.
Perhaps the hitting highlight for Fort Loramie came in the fourth inning when Mack Fortman stretched out an at-bat for an amazing 11 pitches before torching a line drive single to right that generated the first Redskins run. Fortman totaled the second most hits on the team for the season.
Highly impressed with Fort Loramie was the first-year coaching trio for JFK. “They battled very hard against our number one pitcher. Those guys over there had so much fight. An extremely formidable opponent,” the JFK coaches all agreed.
“We hung on to take the one-game series by one run,” they said. “Saturday was a tightly played, state championship caliber contest.”
Paying the Redskins one compliment after another, the JFK coaches indicated the Shelby County club was “as strong as or stronger than” most of the dozen Division-II’s and -III’s on the Kennedy regular season schedule.
They said, as it turned out, the Fort Loramie team and their own club, with a roster of 11 that included six skilled freshmen, probably offered the best combination of pitching, offense and defense in the Final Four.
Fort Loramie head coach Jeff Sanders heaped credit on JFK, noting that “the freshmen were really good and peaked at the right time— tournament time.”
Sanders added, “We began putting the ball in play regularly over the last four innings against the JFK pitcher.”The senior, Hollobaugh, who fashioned a 0.38 earned run average, weathered through 107 tosses in the heat and humidity, and struggled with command late in the game.
“We ran out of at-bats as he was running out of gas,” Sanders said. “Our swings came around just a little too late.”
He stated that his superb senior class, which lost last spring because of the health crisis, worked hard for him and his assistant coaches, and “did everything asked of them” on the diamond in completing a tremendous 2021 season.
The 10 Fort Loramie seniors highlighted in the OHSAA state tourney program included: Sam Barhorst, Jake Sanders, Marcus McGowan, Devin Ratermann, Mack Fortman, Darren Hoying, Adam Siegel, Trevor Middendorf, Caeleb Meyer and Grant Albers.
Three Redskins earned first team Shelby County Athletic League (SCAL) honors. They were Fortman, county Player of the Year; Sanders; and Hoying. Juniors Derek Meyer and Evan Eilerman were recognized on the second team.
This Fort Loramie squad was ranked sixth in the state in the final Associated Press poll, won 12 of its last 13, and earned an SCAL title with a mark of 11-1.
“The cupboard is not bare,” Sanders said. “Numerous talented juniors and sophomores will be ready to compete as Redskins next spring.”
The 2021 Fort Loramie team represents the school’s seventh to reach the state baseball tournament since 1985. The three clubs in 2007, 2010, and 2018, which was coach Sanders first year, won state championships.
On Saturday, how close was Fort Loramie to playing for another Division-IV state title?
Well, a few inches, a handful of times, and several feet about 330 feet from home plate at least once.
In the second inning, Redskins Fortman and Eilerman scalded balls to the outfield, one to left-center and one to right-center. JFK centerfielder Alex DeSalvo made terrific snags both times, sliding on the grass while flashing his glove and snow-coned ball in the air to signify completed catches. A couple doubles right there produce a Fort Loramie run.
Hoying’s long clout to left in the sixth inning sailed 15 feet to the foul side of the pole as it left the park beyond the picnic area. If Hoying straightens out his stroke, his blast skims down the outfield wall or clears it for a game-tying, two-run homer.
The Redskins had the tying and winning runs aboard with two out in the seventh when a sharply hit ground ball by Derek Meyer momentarily handcuffed JFK freshman third baseman Michael Condoleon as he lunged to his left. He regained control in his glove, pivoted, zipped back to the bag, and stepped on it to nail down the game-ending force out, thus denying Fort Loramie a chance to win another title on Sunday.
“If Condoleon is playing forward three or four steps to take away the bunt as he did most of the afternoon, that batted ball snakes past him into shallow left field,” said play-by-play announcer Jack Kramer during the ScoresBroadcast.com presentation online and on WMVR radio.
Chuck McBee, Jack’s side-kick on the air, added, “A base hit chases home pinch runner Logan Eilerman to tie the score, and the inning is still alive.”
A Caeleb Meyer base knock, a Ratermann walk and a clutch, run-scoring, line-drive single to left by junior pinch hitter Owen Pleiman created the seventh inning scare for JFK.
A scare that JFK fans and coaches believed, in hindsight, was like the state championship game a day early.