[This is my column in the May 14 issue of The Commercial Review.]
Following up a year in which multiple school records were set is a tough task.
So how does the Fort Recovery High School baseball team move on from the best squad in history?
Easily. The Tribe has simply put the 2014 team in the rearview and created a new legacy.
Here’s just a taste of the Tribe was able to do last season:
•Win the most games (20) in program history.
•Win the most Midwest Athletic Conference games (six) in history.
•Win 13 straight games after dropping its season opener to Celina.
There were some individual records broken as well in 2014:
•Mitch Stammen stole 27 bases, breaking Dale Griesinger’s mark of 25 set in 1949.
•Jackson Hobbs’ 0.76 ERA was a new record, besting Kevin Schoenherr’s 0.80 from 2006.
•Jacob Muhlenkamp set a new record for career games played with 96.
Many thought the Indians would have a difficult time with an encore from the 2014 squad.
Coach Jerry Kaup was one of them.
“Coming into this year we knew we had some returning pieces,” he said. “We thought we had some nice returning pieces, we just didn’t know how they were going to fit.”
After all, the Indians lost their starting catcher (Blake Boughman), first baseman and designated hitter (Kent Retz and Muhlenkamp) and center fielder (Elijah Kahlig).
So they had to make adjustments.
“Some of our players have made some sacrifices and are playing in different spots than they were last year,” Kaup said. “We’re asking them to do different things than they did last year. Some of the success goes on the fact that the players are going to buy into that and accept that role.
“They are not selfish. They are team players and they want to just continue to move on.”
What Fort Recovery has been able to do on the diamond this season shows the team has indeed accepted new roles.
The Indians won a school-record 17 straight games to open the season. They defeated Coldwater for the first time in three decades. They reached No. 1 in the polls, something no other team has done.
Wednesday, the Tribe eclipsed the 20-win mark, a new record. Tuesday, it won its seventh conference game, another record.
Much of that success has been attributed to Hobbs.
Through Wednesday, the junior righty leads the team in wins (seven), ERA (0.63), strikeouts (39) and innings pitched (55 2/3). Opponents are batting a lowly .175 against him.
The stats say one thing. But to validate just how important Hobbs has been to the Indians, ask Kaup. Better yet, ask the players behind him.
Stammen, the Indians’ center fielder, loves when Hobbs toes the rubber.
“As a defender, it’s great,” he said. “I know if anyone gets a hit, there are very few times it’s solid (contact).”
Hobbs is successful with a bat in his hand too. He leads the team in batting average (.444) and on base percentage (.573). His 28 singles and seven doubles trail only Stammen and Jacob Homan respectively. He has drawn 16 walks, which is second to Cole Wendel. He has scored 24 times, which is third on the team.
“Being such a good pitcher definitely helps him at the plate,” Stammen said. “He knows what pitchers are thinking; he reads them a lot.”
Last season, he was recovering from an ACL injury to his right knee, the same leg he uses to push off the rubber.
On one leg, Hobbs was a first-team all-MAC pitcher. There’s no doubt he’ll be on the list again now that he’s healthy.
Fort Recovery has had a great season so far, winning a sectional championship in back-to-back years for the second time in program history.
Although a conference championship slipped away from the Indians last week, there is no need to fret. The road to the ultimate goal — a state championship — has already begun.
It continues at 5 p.m. Wednesday in Coldwater with the regional semifinal. Should the Indians defeat the Marion Local Flyers for the second time in eight days, it will likely set up a rematch with the Minster Wildcats in the district championship.
Minster ended Fort Recovery’s hopes for a perfect season May 1. If the Tribe can get its redemption — the Wildcats’ outlasted the Indians in the semifinal game in 2014 — it will be Fort Recovery’s first district championship in six decades.
The Indians have already packed Veterans Field in Coldwater once this year. With a chance to make history — the Tribe has done it all season — they should be able to do it again.