Colts take on Warren Champion at 10 a.m. this morning at Huntington Park in Columbus in state semifinal
By Mike Tanchevski
BELLVILLE — In the OHSAA Baseball State Tournament Coaches/Media Teleconference on May 31, Clear Fork head coach Rusty Staab recounted the Colts challenges on the way to the team’s second consecutive state tournament appearance.
“We have had an adversity type of season,” said Staab. “We lost our shortstop during preseason conditioning and our catcher went out at Wooster. Then on their their return, (Thomas) Staab goes out against Orange.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries, but I know that nobody’s feeling sorry for us.”
Clear Fork’s schedule, littered with Division I and II opponents, got them tournament ready.
They played Division I Mount Vernon twice; Division II regional finalist Lexington twice and Division I Olentangy Orange, also a state semifinalist.
“We played a strong Ohio Cardinal Conference schedule,” said Staab.
Clear Fork, which finished the regular season at 13-12, ended on a high note with a pair of wins against Lexington.
“When we beat Lexington, we really took off,” Staab said.
At full strength, the Colts galloped through the tournament. In five tournament games, Clear Fork has outscored opponents 34-3, with three shutouts.”
Staab pinpointed the date the team hit its stride, “May 18th was when we got everybody back and everybody clicked. We’ve been playing phenomenal defense. This is the best defense we’ve played. We’ve had some timely hits and our pitchers are throwing strikes and letting our defense play. It’s working out well right now.
Coach Staab thinks last season’s appearance in Huntington Park should not unnerve this team:
“I think it’s going to be an edge until the game starts,” he said. “When we showed up last year to play Waynedale, I think we were gawking in the seats and were in awe. Once the game starts I don’t think it will affect either team.”
What will it take to win a state title?
“We know it takes great pitching and defense, but in tournaments, it’s that team that has offense that’s hot. Our offense is really confident right now.
“We were doing this last year. Everybody thought we were a fluke last year. It’s hard to fluke all the way through district regionals all the way up to state.
“Most of these players all were starters last year. But the guys that were in the dugout being cheerleaders are now starters. They know what we did last year.”
Coach Staab pointed out the strengths of his team.
“Paul Francisco came out of the woodwork this season. He got an opportunity to play and he shined. We put him in during the sectional finals and he was phenomenal. He’s been a pleasant surprise.
“Jared Lind is a first-year junior, playing second base, he’s doing great.
“The key has been the left side of the infield. Hunter Boyer and Hunter Auck have done a great job. Thomas Staab, in centerfield, is cutting off balls in the gaps. In my opinion we have one of the strongest-armed outfields. All three outfielders have great throwing arms. When teams watch us take infield they think about taking that extra base because of their arms.”
“We have strong middle relief and a closer, we have a great bullpen,” Staab continued. “Jarrod Smith, Gage Belcher, Dylan Wade and Gavin Bailey have been doing a great job.”
Mitch Dulin will start today’s emifinal game against Warren Champion and Jalen Sheriff will pitch the championship game, if the Colts are able to advance.
Warren Champion head coach Rick Yauger is proud of his team’s success. “
This is a focus group of seniors,” he said. “We were able to check off some boxes with a league championship and a district championship.”
Yauger stresses fundamentals when describing his team’s play.
“We’re playing good baseball. Pitching and defense wins games. Hitting home runs sells tickets, but in the end you pitch well and play good defense you’re going to give yourself a chance to win.
“Up and down the lineup we swing it pretty well. … a lot of pop from batters one through seven.”
Yauger said his team has a great work ethic.
“They have a lot of heart and they’re never going to quit. They have a lot of faith in each other, in the program and the system. They come out and work hard and they work on fundamentals. They understand Baseball 101. They do the little things to make the team successful.”
Champion will rely on a pair of underclassmen on the mound. Junior Drake Batcho and sophomore Andrew Russell are interchangeable in the coach’s mind.
“Drake is our No. 1 and Andrew is our No. 2,” he said. “Both have the qualities of a No. 1 — sub 1.00 ERA and fastballs in the mid to upper 80s. They both work well in the zone and command themselves well with their composure on the hill.”
What does his team have to do to beat Clear Fork?
“Baseball is a simple game. We are going to have to have quality at-bats, patience and take advantage of situations when they present themselves,” the coach said. “When we get runners in scoring position, we’re going to have to push runners across. We have to limit walks and make the routine play.
“It comes down to how you play as a team.”