When a successful season ends in defeat, it's hard to look at the positives. However, with the Lake Flyers, there are plenty of them.
Lake's magical season ended last week with a 3-2 loss to Huron in the Division III regional semifinals, a tough end to a fantastic run that saw the Flyers achieve multiple milestones
Led by University of Michigan-bound Jayce Vancena and a special group of seniors, the Lake baseball team finished with a school record 27 victories, a Northern Buckeye Conference title, their third league title in four years, a 19-game winning streak and a district championship, their second in three years. They are accomplishments that make them one of the best teams Greg Wilker has coached in his 30 years in Millbury.
|Michigan-bound pitcher Jayce Vancena
(Photo courtesy of Innovations Portrait
|Lake shortstop Connor Bowen at the
plate. (Photo courtesy of Innovations
"It probably won't sink in for a week now," Wilker said of the team's accomplishments after the loss to Huron Thursday night.
"We won 19 straight games, and that's quite an accomplishment. To go 13-1 in our league, we're proud of that. It's a tough league. We were down 3-0 (against Huron), got it to 3-2 and we went down in battle. That's how I'll remember them. They battled all year, and I'm very proud of them.
"There's quite a bit of pride in winning the district. Our goal is to win a league championship, win a sectional, a district and get 20 wins. If you accomplish three out of four, that's a pretty good season, and we accomplished all four. When you make it to regionals, it's quite an accomplishment."
Vancena led the team on the mound and at plate. He went 8-1 with a 0.71 ERA and hit .455 at the plate with 19 RBIs and 23 runs. Vancena, who threw two no-hitters this season, will go down as one of the greatest players in the program's history.
When he pitched, there were at times over a half dozen professional scouts with radar guns behind the backstop — a sign that he may have the option to be drafted and go professional instead of playing baseball in Ann Arbor, Michigan next year.
In the loss to Huron at Elida, the Flyers outhit the Tigers 7-6, but had three errors to Huron’s two. Vancena finished with four of the Flyers' seven hits, including the game's only extra base hit — a double. Lake left fielder Aaron Witt had two singles and scored a run, but Huron’s Jack Hufnagle had two singles and scored two runs as the Tigers put up two runs in the top of the first and added the winning insurance run in the top of the fifth.
Lake scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh and had a chance to put up more, but came up short. Kyle Kovach was the winning pitcher and Vancena took the loss.
His five fellow seniors, catcher Nick Walsh (.310 BA, 19 RBI, 15 R), second baseman Cody Witt (.364, 22 RBI, 18 R, first baseman and designated hitter Anthony Pratt (.351, 2 HR, 25 RBI), right fielder Brad Ackerman and third baseman Joel Densic, accomplished so much in their four years at Lake that they played a significant role in helping to strengthen one of the state's best programs. That will be their enduring legacy in Millbury.
"They're a tight-knit group," Wilker said of the seniors. "I knew we they going to be pretty good. The seniors are a great group of kids that just really enjoyed really being around each other. I enjoyed that. We got the seniors together after the game and I told them, 'Take that work ethic and just make me proud. They're bright kids, they work hard, and they competed as hard as they could. They're hurt, they're disappointed, (but) we had no regrets."
The other members of the starting lineup include center fielder Adam Duncan (.383, 17 RBI, 34 R, 21 SB), shortstop Connor Bowen (.365, 16 RBI, 26 R) and left fielder Aaron Witt (.304, 8 RBI, 9 R). Fourth outfielder Zak Greenlese provided production when called upon and Todd Walters, the No. 2 starter, went a perfect 7-0 with a 1.43 ERA on the mound.
The Flyers' four losses came against elite competition — Perrysburg and Wauseon, both of whom were state ranked at some point this season, along with Genoa, who finished second in the NBC, and Huron, a regional finalist.
The list of wins is endless with three coming in the tournament. Notable wins include a victory over Wauseon, which came in a doubleheader, a win over Maumee, and close wins against Genoa (2-1) and Eastwood (12-10), games that late in the season ultimately clinched the league title.
The win over Eastwood, which gave Lake the outright league title, saw Ackerman hit a three-run, walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth to complete the rally.
Oh, and the tournament run was special, too.
The sectional final, a 3-2 win over Liberty Center, saw the Flyers rally from a 2-0 deficit in the sixth inning to edge the Tigers. Vancena threw a three-hitter and Duncan went 2-for-4 with an RBI and Ackerman had a double in the victory.
The district semifinal, an 11-1 win over Elmwood, saw Vancena throw a no-hitter. Bowen had three hits and four RBIs in the game, Cody Witt finished 3-for-4 and Vancena and Walsh each had three RBIs.
The district final, a 6-4 win over Archbold, brought out all the dramatics as Cody Witt relieved Walters, the starter, in the sixth inning before getting out of a bases-loaded jam to maintain the lead. Aaron Witt had three hits and an RBI in the win over the Blue Streaks, Densic contributed two hits and Bowen and Duncan each had an RBI.
"It was a special season with a great group of guys," Wilker said. "I'm very proud of them."