Baseball formula for tournament success no secret

The formula remains the same year after year.

It’s not a secret. It’s common knowledge, but executing the plan takes talent.

Succeeding in high school baseball’s postseason isn’t easy. The last Trumbull County school to reach the state’s final four was Champion – in 2005. Mahoning County has been significantly better, especially of late. Two coaches who are a big part of Mahoning County’s recent success have similar views on how to reach the state level.

Western Reserve has become one of the state’s best Division IV?teams during Ed Anthony’s tenure. The Blue Devils reached the state semifinal in 2014 and the state final in 2015. Western Reserve (16-4) is again the team to beat in the Division IV district tournament in Struthers, which starts Tuesday, and Anthony has a pretty good idea why.

“It goes back to the old-fashioned stuff, honestly,” Anthony said. “You have to have solid pitching, good defense and some timely hitting. We’ve been blessed to have that through our tournament trail the past couple years. That’s really what wins you games.”

Wyatt Larimer, one of the staff’s aces during last year’s run, just returned for the Blue Devils. The junior is only about 75 percent, Anthony said, but progress is being made. He’s one of the keys for Reserve, which has a solid district in which to contend.

Second-seeded Jackson-Milton (16-5) defeated the Blue Devils just this past week as the teams split their two league games. Third-seeded Lisbon and No. 4 McDonald also are legitimate threats.

In the D-IV Fairport Harbor district, Mathews (15-4) and John F. Kennedy are the No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, and are favorites to meet in the title game over a solid field of Chalker (No. 4), Maplewood (5), Windham (6), Bristol (7) and Badger (8).

In Division III, the usual suspects, the Ursuline Fighting Irish, are gone as they moved up to Division II. First-year coach Matt Weymer isn’t a newcomer to the postseason. The longtime Springfield coach helped build one of the area’s elite programs before joining the Irish, another annual state-title contender.

Weymer’s Irish are just 14-8 on the season, but that’s part of the reason he thinks they’re dangerous.

“When I was at Springfield, we always wanted to play a really demanding schedule,” he said. “Being at Ursuline this year, we played the most ridiculous schedule I’ve ever seen. We saw four or five guys that threw 90-plus (mph). You kind of prep your kids for it and tell them, ‘Hey, this will all pay off in the long run.’ We don’t have to qualify for anything like in football, so the records are going to be what the records are going to be. Nothing really matters until May.”

The Irish are the fourth seed in a loaded Division II Struthers district. Top-seeded Poland (19-3) is fresh off a state runner-up finish, while No. 2 Niles (21-2) is enjoying one of its best regular seasons in school history. Fifth-seeded Canfield is no stranger to postseason success, and Hubbard, seeded sixth, just recently had an 11-game winning streak.

In Division III, Champion is the top seed in the LaBrae district. The Golden Flashes (15-3) boast one of the area’s deepest lineups, led by Kent State recruit Michael Turner. Champion has plenty of competition with LaBrae, the three seed, Newton Falls, No. 4, and Grand Valley, No. 5, all capable of making a run.

For a team to advance far, good pitching is a must, and one “ace” starter isn’t enough because teams often play on back-to-back days.

“It’s huge,” said Anthony of having multiple pitchers who can beat elite teams. “That’s the number one thing.”

In the Division III Struthers district, Cardinal Mooney (14-7) is the highest-seeded area team at No. 3. Springfield, the fifth seed, and South Range, No. 6, each are perennial district-title contenders.

The Division I Struthers district is led by Boardman, which is only 12-10 on the year but, similar to Ursuline, played a rigorous schedule. The Spartans are 8-2 in the league and are the only area team to beat Poland. Howland, the fifth seed, also has the ability to compete, evident by its 7-6 win over Boardman on Thursday. The district is pretty wide open, so it’s not out of the question for No. 7 Austintown Fitch or No. 8 Warren G. Harding to challenge for the crown.

Divisions I and II start Thursday. The only district to start Monday is Division III, with several area teams facing off in the LaBrae district. The better-seeded team hosts during the first two rounds before playing at the district’s host site.