With a senior-laden class and a number of key players returning, this was expected to be a good season for the Gibsonburg baseball team.
That doesn't make their 20-3 record any less impressive.
As of last Thursday, their 20 victories was one short of the school record of 21 set two years by the club that advanced to the regional semifinals. The season has included a number of blowout victories and some close wins against good competition. Of the three losses, all have come against the top-level teams in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference, and two were by one run.
Coach Kyle Rase credits his six seniors for providing leadership not just with their words but also with their play on the field.
"I'm very pleased with what we've been able to accomplish," Rase said. "The senior leadership has led the way, whether it's pitching, defense, offense — it seems like they lead the way and set the tone for everyone."
The reason for the success stems from balance on the mound and at the plate. Gibsonburg, which sits in second place in the TAAC with a 6-3 mark and is still in the hunt for the league title, has three pitchers with at least 20 innings under their belt, and six with at least 15 innings of work.
Gabe Hickman has a 6-1 record with a 1.95 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 36 innings and Matt Lutzman is 5-0 with a 2.80 ERA and 26 strikeouts. Bryce Ernsthausen is third in innings pitched (20.2), has 30 strikeouts to go with a 3-1 record and a 1.69 ERA.
That trio has gotten plenty of help with Preston Arriaga (17 IP, 3-0, 0.82 ERA, 30 K), Andrew Dellinger (17 IP, 1-0 W-L, 2.88 ERA, 15 K) and Brent Hayward (15 IP, 1-1, 3.27 ERA, 18 K).
"Our pitchers are giving us good outings," said Rase, who led the Bears to the Division IV state championship in 2005. "We've had good pitching pretty consistently and that keeps you in the game from the get-go. For the most part, we've played pretty solid defense. Put that together with some timely and you're going to win some games."
The lineup has been just as effective. In fact, in 15 of their 23 games, the Bears have scored at least 10 runs.
Seniors Sam Kohler and Andrew Cantrell, both of whom are four-year starters, have provided a consistent punch in the lineup. Kohler, who bats second and plays third base, has a remarkable .524 average to go with 30 RBIs and team-highs of 44 runs and seven stolen bases. Cantrell, who bats third and plays first base, is hitting .431 with a team-high 44 RBIs, 33 runs and six stolen bases.
"They're our top two hitters," said Rase, now in his 10th season. "There are some other guys that have some good numbers, too. It's important (having a couple anchors) in the lineup like (Kohler and Cantrel). Those guys have played in eight tournament games altogether. We've had some experienced hitters that have done a good job leading the way through the conference season seeing the different pitchers."
Three other hitters, pitcher/outfielder Andrew Dellinger (.429, 10 RBI, 13 R), catcher Derek Angelone (.423, 17 RBI, 27 R) and Arriaga (.413, 16 RBI, 25 R), who also plays left field, are all hitting above .400 and cleanup hitter Brent Hayward, who pitches and plays center field, is hitting .367 with 27 RBIs.
The order consists of shortstop Jordan Kreglow at the top, Kohler, Cantrell, Hayward, Angelone, pitcher/infielder Hickman, Lutzman, right fielder Jacob Auld and Arriaga with Cyrus Foos playing second base.
Cantrell, who has been part of three sectional title-winning clubs, credits the pitching for the team's success.
"The pitchers have done great," he said. "What's nice about us is our rotation is being so good. It's nice for Coach Rase to have (options). He's got enough elite pitchers that he can go to one or the other. The rotation has been great and it's been very useful to have a number of pitchers."
Rase says Cantrell and his five fellow seniors, Kohler, Auld, Hickman, Foos and Lutzman, have set a tone in getting everyone to understand his role, and Cantrell understands that’s his job.
"The thing about our team is that we are unselfish," Cantrell said. "We do whatever it takes to get a guy home. A sacrifice bunt, a sacrifice fly, a hit it to the other side of the field. We all produce in some way to get runs. It doesn't matter who scores or gets the RBIs. We just have to make sure we get more runs than the opposing team."
He says it's also about how the team carries itself.
"We want to stay classy," Cantrell said. "We always had a thing about being classy to the opponents, not to talk trash and stuff like that. It sets a tone with the younger guys. Growing up with the seniors we had, they had good roles, and they made it known to the younger classes.”
If the Bears defeated Danbury last Thursday to win their fourth straight sectional title, they'll face either Toledo Christian or Monroeville in the Division IV district semifinal at Clyde High School at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
Perhaps Gibsonburg has another tournament run in them.
"It's been great winning the tournament games (in years past)," Cantrell said. "We enjoy going into enjoy the tournament atmosphere and not being nervous and just go out and playing. I think that's why we've won some games in the past."