Barnesville ready for D-III state baseball tournament
Shamrocks to face CHCA in Game One
BARNESVILLE — Coaches always want their teams to be playing their best come tournament time. D.J. Butler couldn’t be any happier.
After losing six of the final 10 games of the regular season, the Shamrocks have caught fire and are just two wins away from capturing its first-ever state baseball championship. They have reeled off six straight postseason victories, including a 10-7 verdict over Minford last Saturday afternoon at Beavers Field in Lancaster in the Division III, Region 11 title tilt.
With the coveted triumph, Butler & Co. are headed to the state tournament where they will face Region 12 titlist Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (21-8) at 10 a.m. Thursday on the natural grass surface at Canal Park in Akron. Should the Shamrocks (25-7) win, they would also play at 10 a.m. Saturday for the state crown against either Archbold (22-11) and Canton Central Catholic (23-5).
The appearance is Barnesville’s second all-time. The 2004 team lost to eventual state champion New Albany in the semifinals. Current assistant coach Bryce Allen and Athletic Director Brad Hannahs were members of that squad.
“This is pretty special. This group of kids is special,” Butler said. “Not many people thought we were going to very good for the fact that we lost seven seniors (to graduation) last year. Five of them went on to play college baseball, so there was some thought that we’d be down this season.
“We knew from what we put together in the summer that we had the capability to be a good team again. We thought we could have a pretty good year, but the guys have exceeded every, and really, all of our expectations,” Butler remarked. “When we started playing games, I thought we could be pretty good. Then we started putting everything together and I really thought we had a chance to do something special.”
And they have.
Barnesville started its tournament run with a 16-0 pounding of visiting Newcomerstown and then dispatched Fort Frye, 9-2, in the co-sectional final. The Shamrocks nipped top-seeded Tuscarawas Valley, 2-1, in the district semifinals before avenging a pair of regular-season setbacks to Martins Ferry with a 6-3 nod for the district title. A marathon, 3-2, decision in 12 innings over Fredericktown in the regional semifinals set the stage for Saturday’s victory.
All told, Barnesville has outscored the opposition 46-15 in the postseason. Add in tuneup games with Indian Creek (8-4) and St. Clairsville (8-2) give the Shamrocks an eight-game winning streak.
Ayden Hannahs, one of three seniors on the team, will get the ball on Thursday. He is the ace of a deep pitching staff with five wins in six decisions. His ERA is 1.79 and he has struck out 71 batters and walked 24 in 54-plus innings of work.
“This team is special,” Hannahs said. “If any team can do this, it is this one. Knowing that people didn’t think too much of us this season really motivated us, actually. We knew what we were capable of doing, and that’s all that mattered.”
Butler couldn’t be any more proud of the way his seniors have performed. In addition to Hannahs, the others are Jake Edwards and Brady Wildes.
“The three seniors are huge leaders. Ayden, obviously, is the outspoken one, while Jake doesn’t say a lot. He leads by example. Brady is the ultimate team member. He knows his role. He’s done a lot of pitching, leads the team in appearances and is probably second or third in innings pitched. But when he’s not in the game, he is the first one to congratulate one of his teammates. He gives everything he has,” Butler praised. “We’ve got eight juniors and they all contribute in some way.”
Hannahs, a second team all-Ohio outfield, leads off for the Shamrocks. He is hitting a team-best .421 with 47 hits, 37 runs scored, 20 walks, 16 stolen bases and a pair of triples — all team highs. He has also driven in 21 runs and only struck out five times.
“He’s the catalyst. We go as he goes,” Butler said of Hannahs.
“We flirted a little with him in the three spot (in the order) to start the season because he has good gap-to-gap power, but we are a better team with him leading off.
“He’s a very smart baserunner and he reads the pitcher as well as anybody,” Butler continued. “He gets a great jump so we trust him to make good decisions like he did against Fredericktown the other night when he stole home with two outs in the first inning.”
His versatility allowed the Shamrocks to move him into the infield.
“Our three outfielders are very fast, so we thought we could move Ayden into second base and it’s worked so far,” Butler said.
Junior Jeremy Hunkler bats second and plays shortstop. He is batting .317 with 32 hits, 28 RBI, 31 runs scored, 18 base-on-balls and a dozen stole bases.
“Jeremy has had a phenomenal season. His glove is outstanding. I think he only has four errors on the year, and three of them came in one game,” Butler said. “He’s been solid all year defensively, and is hitting about .320. I don’t want to say his bat has been a surprise because I knew he was capable of hitting, but with him really being a first-time varsity starter we really didn’t know how he would adjust.
“His bat control is great. He doesn’t strike out much. He puts the ball in play and forces the opponents to make the plays.”
Edwards is the Shamrocks No. 2 hurler and starts at first base when not on the hill. He bats third and has a .396 average with 44 hits, 29 runs batted in and a team-leading six doubles. It was his two-bagger that drove in two runs in a six-run fourth against Minford.
“Jake’s been outstanding. He played some as a freshman and started as a sophomore but missed all of last season due to COVID, so we didn’t know how he would come out of that. He had a very good summer and it carried over for him,” Butler lauded.
“He struggled on the mound (in the regionals) but he didn’t let it get to him. He took that inside pitch, kept his hands in and got the barrel of the bat on the ball, driving it down the line,” Butler recalled of Edwards’ key hit.
Edwards is 6-1 on the hill with a save in 40-and-one-third innings. He has fanned 44 and walked 14 with a 1.56 ERA.
Junior Gavin Carpenter is the third baseman and relief pitcher. He is hitting .355 and earned the win against Minford with five-plus innings of work.
“He had a little slump at the plate about midway through the season, but he’s seeing the ball really well right now and it is showing,” Butler allowed. “He’s a better reliever and Jake (Edwards) is a better starter. That’s the way we figured we’d go in the postseason and it has worked.”
Carpenter is tied with Edwards for the team lead in runs batted in with 29. He has 33 hits, including five doubles. He is also 5-1 on the mound with a 3.39 ERA. He has 39 strikeouts in 33 innings.
Junior catcher Kyvan Johnson bats fifth and has been a pleasant surprise.
“Unbelievable job this year,” Butler noted. “I always knew he had it in him but to seem him really flourish this year has been nice. He has caught nearly every inning for us. He’s about 40 percent at throwing runners out. He has a good release, but his accuracy is great. The ball is always on the bag.
“He’s also been steady at the plate. He started out really, really hot and then cooled off, but he’s getting back in the groove.”
Johnson is hitting .279 with 24 hits, 16 RBI and has scored a dozen runs.
Junior Logan Shepherd bats sixth and serves as the designated hitter. He was the hero of the elongated win over Fredericktown with a game-winning single in the bottom of the 12th. He is batting .272 with 25 hits and a like number of runs batted in. He has scored 14 times.
“He’s steady. He went through a stretch where he was 1-for-3 in about 10 straight games,” Butler said of Shepherd. “He’s always going to have good at-bats. He never gets down on himself. Against Fredericktown he was 0-for-5 but delivered when it counted.”
Junior Kason Powell is in the seventh spot and plays second base when Hannahs pitches and third when Carpenter is on the hill
“He’s streaky but when he’s hitting it, he’s hitting the gaps,” Butler noted. “Even when he’s not getting base hits he’s not a strikeout candidate. He can put the ball in play and is really good at hitting behind the runners.”
Powell is hitting .269 with 25 hits, 15 runs scored and 13 driven in.
“He was a closer at the start of the year when the games were spaced out a little more, but he can do either. He can also play second or third for us.”
Powell is 4-1 with a pair of saves. He has struck out 26 batters in 31-plus innings and has crafted a 1.12 ERA.
Sophomore C.J. Hannahs bats eighth and plays right field. He is batting .292 with 19 hits, 10 RBI and a team-best eight sacrifice hits.
“Lightning-fast. He runs down balls in the outfield with his speed,” Butler said of C.J. “It took him a little while to catch up to varsity pitching, but now that he has, his approach at the plate is he likes fastballs early. If he sees one, he jumps on it. He’s another one that we use to bunt. He leads the team in sacrifices.”
Junior Spencer Bliss plays left field and is a key at the bottom of the lineup.
“Another leadoff hitter in the No. 9 spot. He was splitting time with Ayden in the outfield, but with wanting to get Colton (Hines) in center turned out to be a good move by our coaching staff.”
Bliss is batting .333 with 20 hits, 19 runs scored and nine stolen bases.
Junior Colton Hines is the centerfielder and can track down balls in the gaps with the best of them.
Junior Noah Strauss has been used as a pinch hitter of late. He is hitting .333.
“He started a lot of games defensively, then his bat got hot,” Butler said. “We just happen to have a lot of guys with the same skill sets that are playing the same positions, or he would probably be starting more.”
Wildes is 4-3 on the mound with 46 Ks in 44-plus innings.
Rounding out the roster are sophomore Corbin Wise and freshmen Duker Castello, Aydon VanHorn, Skyler King, Taison Starr, Reese Stephen, Colevin Robb and Jaxon Wiley.
The coaching staff includes, in addition to the aforementioned Allen, Jeff Miller and Joel Atkinson who serves as a team statistician.
“Our coaching staff is phenomenal. Bryce’s baseball IQ is really high. Jeff has been with me from the beginning and his baseball IQ is off the charts,” Butler noted. “Having Bryce to rely on in relating some of the things the 2004 team did or things that would’ve done different has really helped.
“Joel’s (Atkinson) role has diminished with him having kids playing now, but he serves as our statistician. I still bounce ideas off of him now and then. He also works with our pitchers during the offseason.”
As far as CHCA goes, Butler hasn’t had much luck in finding out much about the Eagles, who will be making their fourth all-time appearance. They were runnersup in 2014 to Coldwater and have also qualified in 2005 and 2017.
“Their pitching is excellent. They kind of look like a mirror image of us, Butler admitted. “They look to have about the same size kids as us and they seem to rely on their pitching. It doesn’t seem like they’ve scored a lot of runs from looking back at their scores. It also seems that they’ve played a lot of close games.”
Butler wanted to thank everyone for all the support his team has received along the tournament trail.
“I think they said they sold five-hundred-and-eighty-some tickets for the game at Muskingum on Friday, and I bet we (Barnesville) accounted for 400-or-more. On Saturday, we were told that just Barnesville fans, there were more than 500 (tickets) sold,” Butler said. “The community support has been outstanding. My phone has been ringing off the hook from people wanting to know what they can do for the kids.
“It’s been awesome.
“Mayor Bunting loves Barnesville. Everything he does has Barnesville in mind. The rest of the community just rallies around anything associated with the school.”
— Barnesville will be the visiting team Thursday. However, should it make the finals, it would be the home team.
— The Shamrocks have set a new school-record with 25 wins. The old mark was 22.
— Barnesville practiced on the grass surface at Mazeroski Field inside Sally Buffalo Park in Cadiz on Tuesday.
— Archbold has only made one state tournament appearance, but made the most of it with a championship in 2005.
– Canton Central Catholic is making its seventh appearance. It has claimed titles in 2008, 2011 and 2015.