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Looking Back at the OHSAA’s Baseball Championships

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Looking Back at the OHSAA's Baseball Championships - No. 1
A centennial moment

By Timothy L. Hudak
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
www.SportsHeritagePublications.net
 

While seemingly not as popular as some of the other boys sports like football and basketball, baseball has been around Ohio’s high schools almost from the time that the game was invented by Abner Doubleday.  The problem is not that the sport is unpopular, far from it, but other factors come into play that often detract from what we might refer to as high school baseball’s “recognition factor.”  For instance, although the springtime brings us nice warm weather after the long, cold, snowy Ohio winter, it also brings something else – April showers.  Between the April and May rains, and the occasional late winter snow that can sometimes extend almost to Easter, especially in the northern half of the state, baseball often gets the short end of the weather stick.  Games can get cancelled and rescheduled so often that we are sometimes lucky if the teams and their coaches know when to show up.  This hampers the ability of the local newspapers to cover the games, and if the results do not get into the paper, well, as the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.

There is another problem for baseball, and for all of the other spring sports, at the schools themselves.  Yearbooks, if they are to be available before graduation, must go to press by early May.  When a sport’s season extends to the very end of the school year, like baseball’s does, not much can be put into the yearbook about the team other than a team photo and perhaps a small paragraph about the team’s hopes for the season, or, if the team is real lucky, a recap of the previous year’s results.  Fortunately, this particular problem seems to be on the decline of late, as more and more schools are now issuing their yearbooks at the beginning of the next school year, thus allowing for more complete coverage of all school activities for the entire school year.

Finally, with the games played during daylight hours, and predominantly on week days, it is difficult for parents and fans to attend them. 

Thankfully, local newspaper coverage of high school baseball appears to be on the upswing.  As recently as 20 years ago, if you wanted to get information about high school baseball in the local newspaper you were lucky to get a score, much less a box score or a small article.  All that seems to be changing, at least in Ohio.  Coverage of not only baseball, but all high school sports, is definitely much better now than in years past.  The big games are getting more “ink,” and outstanding accomplishments and players are being recognized.  Newspapers, such as the Cleveland Plain Dealer, have even come up with weekly high school sports sections, where the sports of the season, local standings, etc. are featured throughout the school year.

In spite of all of the above listed obstacles, baseball in Ohio’s high schools has been thriving for generations.  The state tournament is a prime example, with this year’s championship marking the 80th edition of the State Baseball Tournament.  From the beginning in 1928, through 1970, all schools were divided into two categories.  From 1928-1956 it was Class A for the bigger schools and Class B for the smaller ones.  These classifications were changed to Class AA and Class A, respectively, from 1957-1970.  From 1971-1990 there were three classes, AAA-AA-A, and from 1991 to the present they were renamed and a fourth added, Division I-II-III-IV.

All of the tournaments have had their own brand of excitement, and that first one back in 1928 was no exception.  In the Class A big school category, Columbus Aquinas made it to the finals on the basis of a pair of shutouts in the quarter-final and semi-final rounds. 

In the championship game against Athens High School, things would get a bit more “interesting,” with the bulk of the scoring coming in the final two innings.  Entering the eighth inning (the championship games were nine inning affairs until 1932) the game was deadlocked at 1-1.  Athens took a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth, but Aquinas came right back with a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning.  Athens managed to tie the game at 3-3 in the top if the ninth, but Aquinas pushed across the winning run with just one out in the bottom of the ninth to take home the first Ohio Class A baseball championship.  Although Aquinas would again make it to the finals in 1936, this would be the school’s one and only state baseball championship.

The 1928 Class B tournament had even more excitement.  In the quarter-final round, Jack Curby of Newcomerstown High School tossed a 2-0 no-hitter against Kunkle High School.  Pitching must be the specialty of the Division IV/Class B tournament, as six of the 11 no-hitters thrown in state tournament play have come from that single division.

Unfortunately for Newcomerstown, they were knocked out of the tournament by Centerville in the semi-finals.  Centerville then played Oxford McGuffey High School in the Class B championship game.  It was a wild affair, with Centerville coming out on the long end of a 20-9 score.  Centerville’s 20 runs and 19 hits are still a Division IV state tournament record.  Oxford McGuffey aided the Elk’s cause by committing 10 errors in that game, which may be a record as well, but, fortunately for the McGuffey nine, that category is not listed among those in which all-time records are maintained. 

Like Aquinas in Class A, this was Centerville’s only baseball state championship, in the Elks’ one and only trip to the tournament.  It is truly amazing how often this has happened over the history of all of the OHSAA state tournaments, i.e., a school winning its one and only state title in the very first year of a tournament.

Talk about parity, in its early days the Class B/small school Class A state baseball tournament was a living definition of parity.  Over the first 38 years of this tournament, only four schools managed to win more than one championship.  Reading High School won its first Class B title in 1942, and became the first school to win a second championship when the Blue Devils took the title again in 1944, 16 years after the first tournament was held.  Reading came back in 1946 to take a third Class B trophy, completing its first perfect season, 19-0, with a 3-0 championship game victory over St. Henry High School. 

The Blue Devils also won state championships in 1957, 1974 and 1980.  Their six state baseball titles are the second most for any school in Ohio.

Beavercreek High School was another repeat champion in Class B.  The Beavers won their first state championship in 1941.  They then returned to tournament play a decade later as one of the true baseball powers in Ohio during the early ‘50’s.  In 1951, the Beavers dropped a 3-2 decision to Navarre in the semi-finals.  They returned even stronger the next season.  Posting four runs in the first inning of the state title game, the Beavers (15-1) made those runs hold up for a 4-0 championship win over Howland High School. In 1953, Beavercreek became the first school in the state to win back-to-back baseball titles when the Beavers handed Ft. Recovery High School a 6-1 loss in the championship game, closing out a perfect 21-0 season.

A few years later, Liberty Union High School surfaced as the next small school power.  Playing in small school Class A in 1960, Liberty Union went through its entire season undefeated, 14-0, topping it off with an 8-4 victory over Convoy Union High School in the state championship game.  The next year it was more of the same for coach Cliff Rollins’ Lions, another undefeated season, 17-0, and a second straight state title.  Liberty Union is still the only school in Ohio history to ever put together back-to-back undefeated championship baseball seasons.

In 1962 the Lions advanced to the championship game for the third consecutive year, but this time they dropped a 4-0 decision to Van Wert Lincolnview. 

Liberty Union did not make it to the state tournament in 1963, but in 1964, now coached by Mark Wylie, the Lions posted their first 20 win season, against just one defeat, and took home their third state championship in five years.

Coldwater is another team from a small school division (Division III) that has had a lot of success in the state tournament.  The Cavaliers have played in the state tournament 16 times, the second highest total of any school in the state.  They made their first appearance in1938, but were not able to advance to the title game until 1977, when they were shut out in the Class AA finals, 6-0, by Cincinnati Deer Park. 

The Cavaliers “golden era” of baseball took place from 1983 to 1992.  During that ten year period Coldwater High School advanced to the Class AA/Division III state title game six times, winning five championships.  They won back-to-back titles in 1983 and 1984, posting a stellar 27-0 record in ’84.  

The Cavaliers baseball success is not just confined to the state tournament, as they are one of the top “baseball schools” in the whole country.  In Ohio they own the two longest victory streaks on record, winning 44 straight from 1983-85, and coming back to win 41 in a row in 1987-88.  The Cavaliers own 1,061 victories in their 57 years on the diamond, the sixth highest total for any school in the nation, an average of almost 19 victories per season.  Their winning percentage of .792 is the best in the state.  Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that they have lost only 278 games in those 57 seasons, the fewest losses by any team in the state that has played that long, and less than many that have played considerably fewer seasons.

It was mentioned earlier in this article that pitching appears to be a strength among the smaller schools.  It may be hard to prove that either way, but we can give a couple examples of two of Ohio’s greatest school boy hurlers, both of whom happen to hail from small schools.

Tom Engle pitched for Lancaster Fairfield Union High School from 1987-89.  Tom leads the state in three separate pitching categories and is second or third in three others.  Perhaps Tom’s most incredible accomplishment is the six no-hitters that he pitched in 1989.  How he accomplished this feat is even more stunning.  You see, Tom Engle pitched his six no-hitters in six consecutive outings to the mound! 

Tom Engle also leads the state in consecutive shutouts thrown with seven, and with 50.1 consecutive shutout innings.  He also has 18 career shutouts, which is second in the state; 20 strikeouts in a game, which is third in Ohio; and 174 K’s for a single season, which is also third.  Tom’s team never won a state championship, the Golden Gales losing in the finals in 1986, but that does not take away from the great career that he had.

As amazing as some of Tom Engle’s accomplishments are, there is another pitcher who just might be Ohio’s all-time best.  Pitching for Northwestern High School of West Salem from 1956-1959, Dean Chance, future American League Cy Young Award winner (by the way, Cy Young was also an Ohioan), put up some remarkable numbers.

 While he is best known to most of us for his accomplishments in baseball, Dean Chance was also quite a basketball player at Northwestern High School.  In 1958, he led Northwestern to the Class A state basketball championship.  In his senior year he was named to the first team AP and UPI All-Ohio squads.

Unfortunately, the complete historical record of Chance’s baseball accomplishments is somewhat lacking, but what we do know is truly amazing.  In the spring of 1958, Dean Chance led the Huskies’ baseball team to its first appearance in the Class A state baseball tournament.  They advanced as far as the semi-final game, where the team from Gnadenhutten High School handed the Huskies a 3-1 defeat.  Dean Chance was on the mound that day, and that loss would prove to be the only one suffered by Chance in 53 decisions as a high school hurler.

 The next season Chance and the Huskies would finish what they had started the year before, and Chance’s performance in the 1959 state tournament would be a true reflection of what his four year high school baseball career had been. 

On May 22, 1959, in the Class A semi-finals, Chance pitched a 1-0 no-hitter over Cincinnati Country Day, his third no-hitter of the tournament, to send the Huskies into the finals.  The championship game was played the very next day, and veteran Northwestern baseball coach Roy Bates came right back with his best pitcher, Dean Chance.  Chance was not as sharp against Spencerville High School as he had been against Country Day, allowing two hits in this game.  However, his team provided plenty of offense en route to a 7-0 championship game victory.

Dean Chance’s record on the mound is truly astounding.  That championship game victory was Dean Chance’s 52nd for the Huskies, against just one defeat.  His 52 career wins are tops in the state.  The record for consecutive victories by a pitcher in Ohio is listed at 25.  However, Chance’s lone defeat came in his 33rd decision, which would give him 32 consecutive victories.  In his senior year of 1959 Dean Chance went 20-0, becoming the only Ohio high school hurler to win 20 games in a single season. 

Chance also hurled an incredible17 no-hitters during his high school days, but here again the official record is lacking.  He is not listed among the all-time leaders in Ohio in this category, where his 17 career no-hitters are the second most in the nation.  Dean Chance also pitched eight no-hitters in each of two seasons, 1958 and 1959.  Eight no-hitters is also an Ohio record for a single season, as well as again being second highest in the country. Unfortunately, it is not known how many of these no-hitters were perfect games. 

Had the statistics been available, Chance would no doubt have been at or near the top in several other categories as well.  It is said that he averaged almost two strike outs per inning, and in many games recorded all of his outs via the strike out, so his strike out totals would have certainly been way up the list.  With 17 no-hitters, his overall number of shutout victories would have also been substantial.  In his senior year Dean Chance is said to have allowed only two earned runs the entire season, so his yearly and career earned run averages would also have been among the all-time best.

Hopefully, someday the missing information will surface and Dean Chance will be duly recognized for all of his accomplishments as one of Ohio’s all-time great high school pitchers.

 

Looking Back at the OHSAA's Baseball Championships - No. 2
A centennial moment

By Timothy L. Hudak
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
www.SportsHeritagePublications.net
 

The previous article dealt mainly with baseball at the smaller school categories in the state.  In this one we will in part take a look at how the bigger schools, those equivalent to the current Division I, have been doing in the state tournament. 

In the Centennial Moments articles that have appeared this year in the championship programs of the other sports sanctioned by the OHSAA, it has been seen how certain schools or areas of the state seem to dominate a sport from time to time.  For instance, in boys track, the Greater Cleveland area, and East Tech and Glenville high schools in particular, seem to have had an over abundance of the state’s track talent.  A similar situation occurs in boys baseball at the big school level.

There have thus far been 79 state baseball tournaments, and the city of Cincinnati has been far and away the most frequent participant.  Teams from that city have participated in the state tournament, i.e., the semi-final and final rounds, 52 times, or roughly 66% of the time.  Of those 52 tournament appearances, these schools have advanced to the championship game on 40 occasions, coming away with 33 state titles.  (Cincinnati schools from smaller divisions have won an additional nine state championships.)  Although, as we shall see, one school has claimed the lion’s share of these appearances, no less than 14 schools from the Queen City have participated in the big school baseball tournament. 

The Cincinnati schools had perhaps their greatest run of success from 1941-1968.  During those 28 seasons there were only five times when one of the city’s schools failed to qualify for the big school tournament, advancing to the championship game 18 times, winning 15 state titles.  During this period the city enjoyed something of a “golden era” of baseball success during the years 1948 to 1960, when five different schools won 11 of the 13 championships that were being played for.  (In 1956 the city made a clean sweep of the state baseball championships, as Elder took home the Class A trophy, and Greenhills grabbed the Class B hardware.)

If one school can be called Ohio’s “baseball school,” that school is Cincinnati’s Elder High School.  Not only have the Panthers played in more state tournaments (18), and won more state championships (12) than any other school in the state, they have also, as will be shown below, won more baseball games than any other high school in the country. 

Elder did not play in its first state tournament until 1943.  That year the Panthers used a four run second inning to defeat Springfield, 4-0, to claim their first state championship.  The Panthers’ greatest era of success came from 1952 to 1961.  During those 10 seasons Elder qualified for the tournament eight times, winning six championships, including a state record three in a row in 1958-1959-1960. 

The Panthers have won at least one state baseball championship in every decade since the 1940’s, something that is looked upon by the Elder faithful as the school’s greatest sports tradition.  Sometimes it has not been easy to keep that tradition alive.  During the 1990’s the Panthers qualified for the tournament in 1996, only to get sent packing in the semi-finals.  By the time the 1999 season rolled around, the team had still not won a state title during the decade to keep its title tradition alive. 

The Panthers qualified for the tournament that year with a good, but not spectacular, record of 25-7.  In the semi-finals they out slugged Toledo St. Francis, 12-5, to advance to the championship game.  In that game the Panthers would be facing an outstanding team from Cuyahoga Falls, 30-1, and ranked #20 in the country.  Elder squandered a pair of one-run leads early in the game, but in the top of the seventh Jeff Lammers, a .398 hitter for the season, stroked a two-run single to give Elder a 4-2 lead.  Dan Bachman came on in relief to pitch the bottom of the seventh and retired the side in order, including a strikeout for the final out, to give the Panthers their 11th state title, but more importantly, keeping their championship streak alive.  They would go on to add a 12th title in 2005, so the tradition continues.

Pitching has always been a big part of baseball.  It has already been mentioned about the great success that Dean Chance had in the 1959 state tournament.  However, nine years later one pitcher from the big school ranks topped even that spectacular performance. 

The pitcher was Buddy Schultz from East Cleveland’s Shaw High School.  Shaw was scheduled to play Marion Franklin High School of Columbus in the semi-finals on Friday, May 25.  However, five days of almost continuous rain put off the game until the following Wednesday, May 30.  It was then decided by the tournament manager to play both semi-final games, and the championship game, all on the same day, rather than take a chance on getting hit by more rain later in the week.  Schultz, a lefty, pitched the first game of the day for the Cardinals and easily disposed of Marion Franklin, 6-0, with a nifty three hitter. 

Thirty minutes after the end of the second semi-final game, won by Toledo Rodgers High School, it was time to play for the state championship.  Shaw coach John Hicks decided to come right back with his ace, Buddy Schultz.

 The game was scoreless through the first five innings.  Shaw pushed across a run in the top of the sixth to take a 1-0 lead.  Schultz struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth, and started the bottom of the seventh with another K. 

Buddy got two quick strikes on the next batter, but when he threw that second strike he grabbed his arm in pain, having suffered a cramp.  Coach Hicks came out to massage the arm, but Schultz threw four consecutive balls to walk the batter.  After he started off the next hitter with three more balls, coach Hicks again came out to massage his arm.  Schultz then got the batter to bounce the next pitch right back to him.  He fielded the ball and threw to second base to start a game ending double play.

In that single memorable day Buddy Schultz had pitched two complete game victories (14 innings), both shutouts, allowing just five hits, three walks and striking out 27.  Only one runner had advanced past first base. 

Today, Schultz would not be allowed to duplicate his performance of 1968.  A rule, called by some “The Buddy Schultz Rule,” prohibits a high school pitcher from throwing more than 10 innings in three days.  Schultz went on to pitch four years for Miami University, where in 1971 he set the NCAA record of 26 strikeouts in a nine-inning game.  He also pitched for five years in the major leagues with the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals.

For those of us who like to follow high school baseball at the national level, it is sometimes frustrating when we cannot find our Ohio teams represented among the nation’s top schools.  Many will tell you that this is because those schools that tend to dominate the national rankings come from areas of the country, like the south, southwest and southern California, where the weather is more attuned to the sport, allowing the teams to play more games in better game conditions. 

I buy that argument to a certain extent, but by the same token, feel that good high school baseball players and teams are good no matter where they hail from, or how many games per year they play.  One need look no further than the National High School Sports Record Book to see how that “warm weather” argument is sometimes less than adequate, or accurate.  In the very first category listed in the baseball section, Most Wins All-Time, seven schools are listed.  Contrary to that “warm weather” theory, four of those top seven are from right here in the Buckeye State!! 

Cincinnati Elder High School, with 1,258 victories, is the winningest baseball high school in the nation.  Number Four on the national list is the Big Red of Steubenville, with 1,121 wins, followed by #5 Oregon Clay High School, 1,081 victories, and #6 Coldwater and its 1,061 triumphs.  Throwing even more cold water (no pun intended) on the warm weather theory, the number three and seven schools are both from New Jersey.  Only the second ranked school, Tucson (Az.) High School, comes from one of the warm weather areas. 

However, these prejudices are hard to overcome and, unfortunately, those who put out the national rankings will probably not be reading this article.  Nonetheless, Ohio high schools do on occasion manage to crack the national Top 25 lists.  The most visible of these is the one put out by USA Today.  In the nine Top 25 baseball lists that USA Today has put out since 1997 (there was no listing in 2000), Ohio teams have managed to finish in the final Top 25 seven times.  The state’s best showing came in 1997, when Hamilton High School finished at #2, with Toledo Start High School coming in at #24.  In 1991, when Fairfield High School took the Division I state championship, head coach Gary Yeats was named USA Today’s national “Coach of the Year”. 

Individual accomplishments are just that, and there will always be someone who will come along to do something just a little better than the last guy.  Nevertheless, Ohio’s baseball players and coaches have done themselves proud when compared to those around the nation.  We would like to list some of their accomplishments for you now.

When it comes to swinging the bat, few can top Mike Breyman, who played for Seneca Attica East from 1997-2000.  Mike’s career batting average of .604 is third best in the nation, while his single season mark of .810 in 2000 is the all-time top average for one season.  It is hard to see how Dean Sandwich did not make the all-time batting average list when you read about his remarkable accomplishment.  Playing for Woodmore High School in Elmore, Ohio, in 1983 and 1984, Dean set a national record when he hit safely in 30 consecutive at bats.

When it is time to “go yard,” Ohio’s sluggers seldom takes a back seat to others.  In 1976, Ken Lisko, playing for Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, tied the national record with five home runs in a single game.  Twenty years later, Jason Thompson of Sylvania Southview came close to that record when he cracked four round trippers in a single game. 

Mark Franklin of Brookfield High School tied several records in his biggest game back in 1982.  On April 16 of that year, in the sixth inning of the game, Mark hit home runs in consecutive at bats, both grand slams, accounting for eight RBIs.  The homers in an inning are tied for #2 all-time, as are the RBIs in an inning, but the two grand slams in consecutive at bats are #1.  During the final days of the 1996 season, and the early days of 1997, Jon Coffman of Warren High School in Vincent, Ohio, tied the national record when he hit home runs in nine consecutive games.

Having a keen eye at the plate is certainly an asset, and no team in Ohio history has had a better eye for hitting the ball in a single game than did Toledo St. Francis in 1983.  That year, the Knights connected for no less than 40 hits in a single game, the fourth highest total in the country.

Once you get on base, it is always helpful to your team if you can steal a base or two, and no one in Ohio high school baseball history has ever been better at that than Matt Figgie of Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills, just east of Cleveland.  Matt is Ohio’s all-time best base stealer with 170 (9th in the nation) in a career that went from 1982-1984. What makes this record even more remarkable is that these were consecutive thefts (#2 in the nation) – Matt was apparently never thrown out while trying to steal a base.

Defense starts with pitching.   The accomplishments of Tom Engle and Dean Chance have already been mentioned, and some of their records have been good enough to make the national record book.  Dean Chance’s 18 career no-hitters is second all-time, while Tom Engle’s six consecutive no-no’s is tops in the country, and the third highest total for a season..  Dave Roebuck of Bryan High School recorded 10 shutouts during the 1959 season, the fourth highest total nationally.  Chris Jimenez, playing for Defiance High School, went through the entire 1989 season without allowing a single earned run, making him one of about two dozen pitchers nationally who have accomplished that feat.

As in other sports, Ohio has produced some very fine baseball coaches over the years.  Leading the list of those with impressive win totals is Don Thorpe, who has led the team from Hebron Lakewood High School to 778 victories from 1973-2006.  Others with impressive victory totals to their credit are Tim Engleka, Centerville, 760 wins from 1964-2002; Lou Brunswick, Coldwater, 750 wins and a winning percentage of .819 from 1960-1993; Mike Cameron, Archbishop Moeller High School, 740 wins from 1969-2006

 

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