It had all the earmarks of a banquet Monday night at the Sidney Post 217 American Legion hall. But in reality, it was a celebration.
Not that long ago, Legion baseball disappeared from Sidney, and it left quite a summertime void. But as Dave Ross, one of the guest speakers Monday, so aptly put it, “we finally had some folks who said it was not acceptable” to continue without a Legion baseball team.
So the program was rekindled roughly six years ago, and that effort culminated in an outstanding 2016 season. The team finished with a 37-19 record, captured the region championship, and went on to finish third in the State Legion Tournament in Lancaster.
Monday night, those players and coaches were honored at the Legion Hall. Head coach Jim Koewler recognized each and every player, and even the bat boy. But not until after he presented Bill Lonsbury a plaque to be hung in the Legion building commorating the third-place finish.
“This program is second to none in the state,” Koewler told the crowd. “From the ball field to how they take care of the kids, it’s outstanding.”
Koewler, who will step down as the head coach of the Legion team, handed out several special awards.
The first was the Coaches Award, and he gave one to three different players, including Jacob Francis, Dominic Beaver and Zach White.
The award for best defense went to catcher Kyle Subler, who had a .993 fielding percentage behind the plate, in addition to hitting .330.
Josh Nixon, who will play at the University of Dayton next season, was given the award for best offensive player. Nixon led the Legion squad with a .389 average, an impressive figure against the competition the team faced. He had 49 hits, including 10 doubles and five triples, scored 24 times and drove in 28. His .548 slugging percentage, coupled with his .458 on-base percentage, gave him an OPS (on base plus slugging) of 1.005, tops on the team.
The award for lowest earned run average went to Daniel Kearns, who will be on the mound for Russia next spring. Kearns worked 262/3 innings this season and allowed just four earned runs for a 1.05 ERA.
Koewler also handed out the Fireballer Award, and that was shared by Brett McEldowney and Cam Clark. McEldowney was the workhorse of the staff, pitching 432/3 innings and finishing a perfect 7-0 with a 1.28 ERA. He struck out 50.
And when Koewler went to the bullpen in the late innings, it was usually Clark who got the call. He pitched 241/3 innings and wound up 6-for-6 in save opportunities. His ERA was 2.30.
That left the Most Valuable Player award. It is voted on by the team, and Koewler announced that for the first time during his tenure, there was a tie. So Drew Wehrman and McEldowney walked off with nice trophies.
Wehrman had an outstanding season at the plate, hitting .370 with 47 hits in 130 at-bats. He had five doubles, a triple, scored a team-high 40 runs and drove in 24. And in 152 plate appearances, he struck out just five times.
McEldowney was second to Nixon in batting average at .370, with 37 hits in 100 at-bats. He had seven doubles and a triple, scored 20 runs and drove in 17.
Another highlight of the evening was the awarding of eight $1,000 scholarships to recent high school graduates who were members of the team. Recipients included Clark, McEldowney, Peters, Jackson Hobbs, Bryant McCarty, Nixon, Wehrman and Dakota Bollinger.
In addition to Ross as a guest speaker, Tyler Mott, the head coach at Ohio Wesleyan, also took the microphone.
“Being a former Legion player myself, I hope you players realize how special this past year was for you,” he told them. “Enjoy this and soak up every minute because this might be the last time you guys are together.”
Koewler closed the event, saying “I’ve really enjoyed these last six years, seeing where the team came from. And the fans were great. The crowds we had following us were unbelievable.”
More proof that Legion baseball is welcome in Sidney.
Reach Ken Barhorst at 937-538-4818