They only got two hits, but the Ft. Recovery Indians again proved that if your pitching is good, and your defense can complement, anything is possible in baseball.
Coldwater – Not to be foolish, of course, but the coincidence is just too tempting.
Think of Roy Hobbs, the fictional wunderkind in the old 1984 Robert Redford baseball movie, The Natural.
And on Saturday afternoon in Coldwater, Jackson Hobbs, in the flesh, proved again that fiction can become reality when the situation dictates.
Hobbs, a senior righthander for the Ft. Recovery Indians, left little doubt that he just might be the modern high school reprisal of Redford’s character – that he’s perfectly capable, and more than willing to pitch them back to state Final Four in two weeks, as he did a year ago. He threw a five hit, 1-0 shutout against MAC rival Minster in the Division IV district final and won the respect of any and all of the 1,500 who watched. He was, for at least the day…”The Natural”.
Ft. Recovery scored the only run of the game in the bottom of the third inning when centerfielder Nick Thwaits singled to drive in Will Homan with the lone run of the game, but only after Recovery had seemingly run itself out of a potentially big inning by being too aggressive on the bases. Teammate Ross Homan was thrown out an out earlier at third base trying to advance on a sacrifice bunt when he was already in scoring position at second with one out. But Will Homan subsequently stole second and scored when Thwaits singled, one of only two hits the Indians would have for the day.
From that point on it was mostly Jackson Hobbs, of course. The story dictated it. They say good pitching beats good hitting almost always? Hobbs proved it.
He surrendered single hits in the second, the third, the fourth and fifth. And when Minster’s Isaac Schmiesing singled with one out in the top of the seventh inning it set the stage for ultimate drama in a high school baseball game.
You could have cut the pressure with a knife; that is, in the typical high school game with the typical high school pitcher. But with Hobbs…well, there seems to be nothing typical about him.
To add to the pressure his catcher, Chase Bruns, waved at a fastball down and low, out of the strike zone, for a passed ball, allowing Schmiesing to advance to second base with the potential tying run.
Undaunted, Hobbs coolly induced Jared Huelsman to lift a harmless fly ball to right field for the second out.
But thousands of high school baseball games have been lost in the final inning with two outs as the stress of the situation, and the momentum of a talented opponent, becomes too great. Up stepped Bryce Schmiesing, the #9 hitter in the Minster order, who had one of the Wildcats five hits on the day (and the only extra base hit), a one-out double back in the third inning.
It set up a battle… Schmiesing fouling off one pitch after another through eight pitches, setting up a 2-2 count for the final pitch of the game. Most high schoolers would have thrown harder in this situation; Hobbs threw softer. He pinpointed a perfect changeup on the outside corner that had Schmiesing way out in front…a swing and a miss for strike three and the final out of the ballgame. District title won!
“It was the perfect time for the changeup,” said Hobbs. “I’d thrown everything else I had to that point and he kept making contact. The logical thing to do was change speeds and get him off balance.”
No one-man show by any means, he had gotten a lot of defensive help up to that point, especially on this day, from second baseball Ben Homan.
Homan had made a diving backhand stab of a line drive off the bat of Minster’s Josh Nixon in the first, a play that left both sides buzzing. And he flawlessly executed ground ball outs in each of he first five innings.
But in the top of the sixth, with Nixon leading off, the Minster third baseman hit a screaming liner back up the middle seemingly destined for center field. Except…Homan somehow was near enough to literally snag the ball after it had passed him, in the webbing of his glove. It looked improbable, if not impossible. But it denied the ‘Cats that all-important leadoff runner, and late-game momentum. Homan downplayed its significance.
“Jackson was just great on the mound again,” said Homan. “He threw strikes and trusted the defense, like he always does. “Today I guess I was the ball magnet. It seemed to find me and I was able to make plays to help us win.”
Outside the Minster dugout a gracious coach, Mike Wiss, was disappointed, but respectful for the way in which Ft. Recovery and Hobbs had taken the game.
“He makes it tough to square one up,” said Wiss of Hobbs. “That being said, both teams made the plays today. And for what it’s worth, that’s what you see in area baseball around here. You’ve all seen it and you’ve all written about it. It is what it is.”
Wiss had more than enough reason to wonder however, as two pitches before Bryce Schmiesing struck out for the game’s last out he lashed a hard grounder down the third base line that appeared to cross over the corner of the third base bag. Except…the umpire didn’t see it that way. He called it foul!
“It might have been,” shrugged Wiss. “But according to the two umpires on the line it was all the plate umpire’s call and he said it was foul. So it is what it is.”
There is no coach in Ohio baseball more respectful of the game and its processes – of the simple fact of players’ abilities to throw strikes and make plays – than Recovery’s Jerry Kaup. Afterwards he again paid tribute to his senior ace now poised to reprise the Indians’ trip through the regional round of the last year’s tournament, and to his team’s toughness to persevere when it seemed all they had going for them…was Jackson Hobbs!
“We wanted to come out aggressive and try to take advantage of any opportunity we had early against their young starter,” said Kaup. “We never disrespect anyone, but he (Aaron Ernst) was not their ace and we tried to force some things and ran ourselves out of opportunities. We were looking for an early edge, thought we could rattle him, score two or three, and play loose from that point. It just didn’t work out that way.
“Offensively, we only had the two hits and we were probably a little anxious. We’ve always been the underdog previously, and now we come into games like these as a favorite and there’s a different mindset, maybe trying to do too much. I’m hoping that with this win we can move on, get some rest, and come back with a more relaxed approach (at the plate).”
As for Hobbs, he’s now 20 wins deep over the past two seasons and by reputation able to attract Newark Catholic coach John Cannizzaro, who came to scout Recovery and its ace righthander…just in case. They met a year ago in the Div. IV semi-final in Columbus on that rare day on which Hobbs was something a bit less than “natural”. It’s a long drive from Licking County to Coldwater, and as Cannizzaro left the ballpark he had little to say, but he didn’t need to. The look on his face was evidence enough that he was impressed.
“We’ve been in a lot of games like today now, going back to last year,” said Hobbs. “Last year it seemed like I was in this situation a lot and today I just felt comfortable with it. But this year we have a better #2 pitcher, our defense is playing great as you saw, and we just go out and trust in each other to get the ‘W’.
“We didn’t hit much today, but in tournament you have to win ballgames like this,” he added. “We only had two hits, but we had zero errors. Our plus-minus run differential is 5-0 so far and and that’s been good enough for us to get to the regionals.”
Kaup, Hobbs, Homan, and whichever hero emerges on another day knows…you cannot score if you don’t hit, at least some. Saturday Nick Thwaits and Will Homan was all they needed. They emerged, moved on, and at least for a couple of day can get that rest of which Kaup spoke.
And the irony of their situation is eerily like the climax of the movie, when Redford (Roy Hobbs) came through against what seemed unthinkable odds. Can the Indians reprise…repeat, and fulfill the destiny of last year’s community motto?
One town…one team…one dream!
The answer, or so it seems…is “naturally”.