PLYMOUTH – The Bishop Dwenger baseball team entered the 2014 season with few exterior expectations, an entirely new coaching staff and a catchy, if not quirky, team mantra – It's Time!
After Saturday's Class 3A semistate at Bill Nixon Field in Plymouth – only the second semistate showing for the Saints, and first since 1991 – Dwenger's time came to an abrupt end.
Facing top-ranked and tradition-rich Andrean, Dwenger got off to a slow start and wound up on the losing ledger of an 18-2, mercy-ruled decision. The Saints' dream season closed with a nightmarish thud, while the Fighting 59ers claimed their fifth semistate crown.
“Dwenger has a reputation of being a football school,” said long-time Andrean coach Dave Pishkur moments after the game. “My hat's off to them. (Dwenger coach Jason Garrett) is going to keep working, and they're going to get better and better. I think Dwenger is going to be a baseball school (in the future). At no point did they drop their heads.
“I was absolutely (surprised by the lopsidedness) of the game. We've been in this situation the last two years and did not play well. You never know in baseball. But it was nice to put up six (runs) in the first.”
The 59ers sent 12 batters to the plate in the top of the first to stake starting pitcher Matt DeSomer to a comfortable lead. Dwenger threatened in the bottom of the inning, scoring once and loading the bases, before DeSomer wiggled out of the jam with a strikeout.
“It kind of snowballed from there,” said Dwenger's starting pitcher, Luke Palmer. “It was a perfect storm.”
Hurricane Andrean tacked on three more runs in the second inning, then nine more in the fourth, to leave no doubt. Facing Palmer, Alex Schenkel and Dan Connolly, the 59ers racked up 18 hits, while also benefitting from 10 free passes (nine walks, one hit batter) and five errors. DeSomer, meanwhile, allowed just four hits – one each from Justin Wagoner, Skyler Noll, Dalton O'Boyle and Schenkel.
“Too much adversity to overcome,” mused Garrett, mere seconds after his heartfelt send-off. “Sometimes, the game goes that way. (But) one game does not make a season. We have a lot that we can continue to build on. We're very appreciative of everybody who kinda rallied behind us. I told (our players after the game), there were a number of people here today who haven't seen a Bishop Dwenger baseball game in probably 20-some years, and that's because they've inspired people with who they've become.”
Who the Saints became, on the diamond, were the last area baseball team standing. They claimed the program's fifth Summit Athletic Conference crown with season sweeps of Bishop Luers, Concordia, Northrop, South Side and then-first place Wayne in a doubleheader in mid-May. The first win over the Generals saw Dwenger overcome a 6-2 deficit en route to a classic, 7-6 extra-innings victory over All-SAC pitcher Nick Huyck.
But Dwenger's magical run was just beginning. In the sectional opener the Saints dug themselves out of a 4-0 hole against sectional-favorite Leo and Cincinnati recruit Treg Haberkorn, erupting for five runs in the seventh inning after the hard-throwing lefty was spelled midway through the game. Dwenger held on for a 9-6 conquest over the fifth-ranked Lions, before knocking off host Garrett (11-6) in the semifinal and SAC-rival Concordia (6-2) in the title tilt.
At last week's Bellmont Regional Dwenger's big bats carried the Saints to the crown in thrilling victories against defending state-champion Norwell (11-9) in the semifinal and Yorktown (11-7) in the championship.
From Schenkel's diving tag against an over-aggressive Luers base-runner in the season-opener, to Noah Freimuth's grand slam in the sectional-title game, to Palmer's towering, two-run blast against Norwell, to O'Boyle's bases-loaded Houdini act against Yorktown in the regional championship, seemingly a different player rose to the occasion. Game after game, the Saints got timely hits from Wagoner, Noll, Cam Kahlenbeck, Cody Miller, Zack Norton, among others, while defensive specialists Louis and Dom Garrett – Jason's sons – and pinch runners Trey Sanfrey, Patrick White and Drew Davis contributed, too.
But on Saturday, a bad start only worsened, and the Saints (19-12) never threatened.
“It was just one of those days,” Palmer echoed. “It's definitely hard; I'm not sure it's sunk in yet. I'm just so thankful to be part of making this program what it is, and what it is going to become.”
Said Schenkel: “You always want to leave a good legacy behind. I hope, in the future, Bishop Dwenger Baseball is something that is remarkable. Coach Garrett is a great guy. I was lucky to have one year with him, and I'm hoping (the underclassmen) get two, three, four. I envy them for that. I just wanted to help get them better, and I know they're going to be way better than we are now. I know that for a fact. I loved it. I love all those guys. It's very sad; I wish I could play another four years with them.”
The Saints lose just four seniors from this year's championship team: Palmer, Schenkel, Sanfrey and Dom Garrett.
“I especially gave thanks to our four seniors – who we coined as the four pillars of the new foundation – and thanked them for all of the sacrifices and the lessons we learned together,” coach Garrett said of his postgame chat. “Throughout the course of the season, particularly early on, the focus had to be more of who we were, than what we did. That was difficult in the beginning as we were establishing an identity. I think when you're faced with a situation that is challenging, whether it be in baseball or it be in life, who you are always matters far more than what you do. Hopefully the young men take away who they became as individuals, and who we became as a team, far more than the successes we were able to have and the accolades that were received. 'Don't let adversity go to your heart, one game does not make a season. Be proud of who we are, put this one to rest and now we start looking toward the foundation that we want to keep building.'”