Is more Trumbull success coming?
Just like that, a drought more than seven decades long is over.
No, this isn’t about Cleveland’s former curse (that drought wasn’t even six decades). This is about Trumbull County baseball crowning a state champion for the first time since 1943.
Yes, Franklin D. Roosevelt was president and World War II was in full swing when Leavittsburg beat Ney, 3-2, marking the last baseball state title before Saturday. Think about that for a second. Television was still in its infancy and the first computer had yet to be invented!
Champion’s 1-0 win over Berlin Hiland in the Division III state championship game was truly one for the ages. I know some of you may be sick of hearing about this team, but stick with me for a minute because this was the most talented group I’ve seen since I started at the Tribune Chronicle in 2004, and the title could be the start of something big for the county.
Their championship wasn’t exactly shocking. Baseball followers in the area knew about the Golden Flashes’ potential. They finished 27-3 and were the state’s No. 2-ranked team (Hiland was No. 1). They have several athletes who will play baseball in college — either this year or in the coming years — so they were loaded at just about every level.
There were two superstar pitchers in junior Drake Batcho and sophomore Andrew Russell. Forget about their age because they’re built like grown men. Batcho is a 6-foot-4 lefty who throws in the upper-80s, while Russell is a 5-11, 165-pound right-hander who throws in the mid-80s and has excellent control. Heck, their bullpen was better than the majority of most team’s starting rotation, but they hardly ever needed it (they used two pitchers total in the state semifinal and final).
Then there’s the lineup, which was absolutely stacked. Leading off was Lucas Nasonti, Trumbull County’s player of the year in basketball. His quickness on the basepaths and in center field was second to none. Teams knew he was bunting, and they still struggled to throw him out.
Three-hitter Michael Turner is going to a nearby baseball haven at Kent State, and he showed why with clutch hit after clutch hit during the playoffs. He hit near .500 for the season and was at his best against the most elite pitchers Champion faced — driving in the eventual winning run in both the semifinal and final. Batcho’s hitting is often overshadowed because of his pitching, but he hit .441 and led the team in extra-base hits.
Other players overlooked because of the star power played their roles perfectly, and maybe the most unnoticed part was the spotless defense, which is never easy to accomplish at the high school level, when players are moving to multiple positions on a given day.
It was truly a great team with a coach, Rick Yauger, who pulled all the right strings and said all the right words to bring it together. The title could be a breakthrough for the county, which, before this season, hadn’t even won a district championship since 2009 (that, too, was by Champion). I say this because oddly, maybe the second most-talented team I’ve seen during my tenure at the Tribune was this year’s Niles team (John F. Kennedy, which also won a district crown, wasn’t far behind either).
The Red Dragons didn’t make a great postseason run — losing in the district final — but that doesn’t change their talent level. Junior pitcher Marco DeFalco nearly tossed three-straight no-hitters (he gave up one hit in the seventh inning of the third game as he attempted to accomplish the feat). Three no-nos has happened just one other time in OHSAA history.
Niles’ lineup was stacked too, and they had three or four other great pitchers. The Dragons lose several excellent seniors, but they did last year too and still repeated as conference champions. Maybe a mental barrier was broken by the Flashes, and more state runs are on the brink.
In truth, baseball is one of the hardest sports in which to put together a playoff run because, as the old Earl Weaver quote goes, “Momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher.” Furthermore, a bad day defensively or a mini-slump by a couple of hitters can result in the immediate end to a season.
Again, that’s what makes this recent title worth celebrating — for the entire county. You don’t have to be a Champion fan to respect greatness. A team that played the game the right way, with a coach who taught the right principles deserves that from us. If you’re still not convinced, well, they might be good enough to bring another one home next year.