BELLAIRE - On paper, the 2014 Bellaire High School baseball team had all the makings of a winner.
With 10 players who'd started at one point or another during the past two seasons, sixth-year head coach John Patrone was eager to get the season under way.
''Unfortunately, the game isn't played on paper and we need to execute,'' Patrone said in March. ''So, we'll see how things play out.''
Bellaire’s five seniors, from left, Spencer Badia, Brendon Ross, Wyatt Back, Nick Patrone and Robert Kovalyk will help lead the Big Reds onto the field Thursday in Columbus for their Division III semifinal tussle against Marion Elgin.
Well, the calendar is about to turn to June. And things have played out pretty well for the Big Reds. For the first time since 2003, Bellaire will play in an Ohio Division III regional tournament.
The Big Reds (17-7) will battle Marion Elgin (20-4) at 5 Thursday afternoon on Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium on the campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus. The winner will play the survivor of the region's other semifinal between two-time defending state champion Wheelersburg and Frankfort Adena on Friday at a site yet to be determined by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
This marks the fourth straight season a squad from The Times Leader's coverage area has advanced to regional play in baseball. Harrison Central reached the state tournament last spring in Division II. St. Clairsville turned the trick in 2012 and 2011.
In fact, Patrone sought a bit of advice from both of those coaches - Justin Clifford and Tom Sliva - on how to handle preparations this week. The answer he got from both? Be yourself.
''They both agreed that was the best way to go,'' Patrone said.
Bellaire's approach all season has been to take things one game at a time, pitch by pitch. That's how Patrone is approaching Thursday's tussle against the Comets.
It's a fine line, really. The excitement level is at an all-time high. But it's up to Patrone to keep things on an even keel.
''The kids have personalities ... kids are kids,'' Patrone said. ''They like to have fun and I like to have a good time, but we need to make sure there's a time to have fun and a time to make sure we're doing what we're supposed to be doing.''
Elgin is making its first regional appearance since 1975 are are coming off a 16-8 campaign a year ago.
''Our kids are very excited,'' second-year Comets head coach Drew Kirby said. ''It's very rewarding for our kids who've put in a tremendous amount of work this year.
''Last year, we were trying to change the culture about the way things are done, not just in athletics, but across the whole school. The kids have bought into the the idea that being just OK is not OK anymore in anything, nut just baseball.''
After a ''relaxed'' workout Tuesday, the Big Reds will head to Red Devil Stadium in St. C. today to work out on the turf there, thanks to Sliva and Red Devils Athletic Director Kelly Rine. Patrone hopes that will help replicate some of the conditions his team will see at the home of the Buckeyes.
''It's not the same type of turf we'll see in Columbus, but we'll talk about how the ball will bounce in the outfield and how the ball will bounce on the turf,'' Patrone said. ''Sliding is another big one. It's not like sliding on dirt.''
This season has been all about making adjustments for the Big Reds. Like most teams, Bellaire has experienced highs and lows. But what Patrone's been impressed by is his squad's ability to learn from those dips in momentum.
''The kids get along and they care about each other,'' Patrone said. ''It doesn't matter if they're a starter or haven't played an inning, these kids all have each others' back and it's been that way all season.''
Bellaire enters regionals after posting tournament victories against Fort Frye (15-6), Coshocton (9-3), St. Clairsville (1-0) and Union Local (12-4).
''They don't make too many mistakes,'' said Kirby, who took in the district final against the Cadets at Vaccaro Field.
''I could tell there wasn't a chance Bellaire was going to lose control after being up 6-0 and leading 6-4. You could tell who the superior team was. We're going to be in for a fight in order to advance to Friday.''
That game was kind of a microcosm of Bellaire's season, filled with many ups and downs. It also featured many key plays from a number of role players, who Patrone said have contributed greatly to the Big Reds' success.
Guys like Nick Hall, Bear Cumberlidge and J.J. Longwell are just a few of the players Patrone said have come off the bench to play pivotal roles.
''Everyone has accepted their roles,'' Patrone said. ''Those guys are all behind each other.
''Some guys might be upset if pinch running is there only time getting in. But everyone knows what they're supposed to do.''
Senior Nick Patrone will get the ball on the mound Thursday. He threw a gem against St. C. in the tournament and another against Coshocton.
He's 7-2 this spring with a 1.46 ERA.
Classmate Wyatt Back will be behind the plate. Around the horn, Brendon Ross will be at first, Nathan Steele at second, Spencer Badia at short and Hunter Westlake at third. The outfield will see Hall in left, leadoff batter Tyler West in center and Tyler Ramsay in right.
Ramsay, Patrone, Badia and Ross are all batting over .400, while Westlake comes in at .377. Westlake leads the team with eight doubles.
Ramsay is tops with six homers and 31 RBI. He is also tied with Ross and Badia for the team lead in hits (32).
Elgin, too is led by five seniors - Sam Hardin, CJ Flach, Cory Pierce, Nate Blevins and Garrett King. Flach will likely get the pitching start Thursday. Hardin, headed to Baldwin-Wallace, will be behind the plate.
Pierce will play first, junior Logan Pierce at second and junior Ryan Bakies at third. Junior Cantyn Belmer will be at short. Juniors Caleb Lynch (left), Bryston Williams (right) and Noah Haynes (center) will patrol the outfield.
''This group has been together for a while and we've had some success,'' Kirby said.
Two of Elgin's victories came against Jonathan Alder, the 2013 Division II state runner-up. Flach, who boasts a .832 ERA, tossed 19Ks combined in both victories.
''One of the goals our kids had was to become a state-recognized baseball program,'' Kirby said. ''And when you win games against teams like Alder the kids are getting close to reaching those goals.''
John Patrone has heard the Comets are quite similar in style to his team in approach. But no matter what the scouting report is on the opponent, if his team plays it's game, John Patrone thinks his team can be successful.
''If we just put the ball in play, good things will happen,'' he said. ''It just comes down to putting the ball in play and executing and trying to minimize the mental errors.''
Thorp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org