Bridgeport diamond squad celebrating 50th anniversary of state finals setback
BRIDGEPORT — Later this month, the Bridgeport High School Class of 1969 will hold its 50th class reunion.
To say there will be a few hours worth of sports memories and stories shared wouldn’t be allowing enough time.
After all, you’re talking about a class that took its school, community and the entire Ohio Valley on an athletic ride that is still talked about. It’s not often, especially in the Ohio Valley, that a school plays in a state championship game in back-to-back seasons.
It happened to Bridgeport in 1969 because the baseball team, which finished with a 17-7 record, basically didn’t want to be outdone by what the basketball team had accomplished that winter.
Unfortunately, the ending to the magic carpet ride season was just as — if not more — bitter for the Bulldogs on the diamond.
“We had the game won, but we just didn’t execute a play and I still have nightmares about it to this day,” Mike Rose, who was the head coach of the Bridgeport baseball team that season, admitted from his home in Florida.
Still 50 years later, the sting from the Bulldogs’ 1-0 loss to New Riegel in nine innings still resonates.
“It absolutely still haunts me,” Allen Glitch, a senior on that squad, said.
Actually, the play that the Bulldogs didn’t execute involved Glitch. Locked up in a scoreless game, Bridgeport’s Jimmy Tomlonis drew a walk from New Riegel ace Larry Kinn to begin the home half of the seventh.
Rose put Tomolonis, who he said was the Bulldogs’ fastest runner, in motion. He stole second with Mark Thompson at the plate. Tomolonis got to third base on a wild pitch.
Electing to not take the bat out of his best hitter’s hands, Thompson swung away and lined out for the first out of the inning. That brought up Glitch.
“We had our fastest runner on third and our best bunter at the plate,” Rose said. “It was an ideal situation for a squeeze play.”
Rose went with his hunch and signaled for the squeeze.
Tomolonis got an excellent jump off of third base because Kinn was left handed and obviously had his back to third base from the stretch position.
“Tomolonis had such a big lead and jump that if Glitch had stepped out of the box or not made contact at all, we would have won the game,” Rose said.
Unfortunately, Glitch made contact and it was a pop up back to Kinn, who caught it and promptly threw back to third to double off Tomolonis and send the game to extras.
Every day second baseman John Anderson was in the dugout and thought as the play was developing the Bulldogs had won with a walk off.
“I still think back to that play,” Anderson said. “We just didn’t pull it off. The squeeze was on, but we just didn’t pull it off.”
In the ninth, New Reigel pushed a run across on a play that Rose still “can’t believe they made.”
According to Rose, a New Riegel runner scored from second on an infield single. A ball was hit deep into the hole, which was fielded by shortstop Dave Mrczkowski.
“He came up throwing and short hopped a throw that our first baseman couldn’t come up with,” Rose recalled. “Their guy came all the way around.”
Kinn, who eventually signed with Eastern Michigan and was drafted in 1973 by the Pittsburgh Pirates, slammed the door in the bottom of the ninth. He actually threw a complete game in the semifinals, too.
“I don’t care if I ever remembered that kid’s name again,” Rose joked.
Though Glitch’s state title game play is mentioned a lot, it must be pointed that the Bulldogs may not even have had the chance to play in that game if it wasn’t for Glitch.
Following wins over Ashtabula Grand Valley and Applecreek Waynedale in the regional, the Bulldogs took on Ross Southeastern in the semifinals. Glitch came through with a two-run single to break open a tie game in the top of the seventh to propel the Dogs to a 7-5 victory.
During the winter, the Bulldogs’ basketball team advanced to the state championship game where it fell to Arcanum. Glitch, Thompson, Tomolonis and Lou Burk were key cogs in both teams success.
With the basketball season stretching to the final weekend for the Bulldogs, it took them a while to get into the baseball groove. Even though the majority of the squad had been playing together for at least two seasons, overcoming the loss in basketball was tough.
“It was probably the first five or six games before the guys were able to get their minds into baseball,” Rose said. “We thought we could be a pretty good team because we had several guys who were going to be starting for their third year.”
Anderson had a feeling that the 1969 season was going to be a good one because of “the athletes.”
“When you add the basketball players, who were really good athletes, to the other guys, we had a good group,” Anderson said. “We had all played together since we were kids and that experience really helped to propel us through the tournament.”
En route to the tournament, the Bulldogs survived a tough test against Gnadenhutten with one-run win. Anderson started a 4-6-3 double play that “sealed the game,” according to Rose.
“The success of our team was because we had excellent pitching, solid defense and got clutch hitting when we needed it,” Anderson said. “That Gnadenhutten game was probably our toughest until the state final.”
Rose, who has lived in Florida for eight years, said “memories you’ll never forget were made” during that 1969 season.
“I hear from some of those players from time to time and ran into them every now and then when I get back to Ohio,” Rose said. “It’s just great to be able to talk about the old times, but it still pains all of us.”
Glitch isn’t sure you ever totally overcome a loss in what was the biggest games of their career, but he does admit he and all of his teammates can look back on the 1969 school year with the utmost pride.
“Both seasons were bittersweet,” Glitch revealed. “At the time, to lose both basketball and baseball was devastating, but as you get older and look back on it, anyone from the Ohio Valley would have loved to have had the same opportunity that we did.”
Indeed they would.