ELYRIA — Kevin Brubaker says the key to the success of his Elyria East team is their familiarity with each other.
“They’ve played together since T-ball, most of them,” Brubaker said. “They know each other’s tendencies.”
Sure, but you could probably say that about any team of high school kids from the same community. But it’s Elyria East that will represent Ohio in the Big League regional baseball tournament this weekend in Wyoming, Mich.
“Yes, but it all depends on how they jell,” Brubaker said. “Some of these kids have had to play new positions. Big League is a lot different from high school baseball. There are a whole lot of new challenges.”
Mitch Tulk played catcher for Elyria High School this spring, yet is handling third base for the Big League club. Allen Sykes was Elyria’s third baseman, but has moved to shortstop.
The moves have allowed Tory Stewart to catch and play the position he will likely play for EHS next season.
It hasn’t hurt their batting averages. Sykes is hitting .410 this summer. Tulk’s average is .324. Stewart leads the Elyrians with a .624 average.
“And he hits eighth in the lineup,” Brubaker pointed out about Stewart. “To have someone like that in the No. 8 hole says something. This team has a lot of offensive weapons.”
All starters on Elyria East are hitting at least .292 this season. Nick Capelety, one of three Elyria Catholic students among the Elyria High players and one of the club’s starting pitchers, hits .420 and led Elyria East with six runs batted in over the four state tournament games. Adam Simmons is batting .319. Ryan Morgan and Matt Gustoff are each at .310.
But it has been fielding, according to Brubaker, that has made the biggest impact on the Big Leaguer’s ability to get to the regional tournament.
“The bulk of it has been defense,” the coach said. “The three runs scored against us in the state tournament came on home runs. The defense has been so sound. I don’t think they made more than one error in the tournament. Tory has thrown out all three runners who have tried to steal second. The defense has been just short of superior.”
The hero of the tournament has been Joe Fitch of EC. It was Fitch’s solo home run with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning that stamped Elyria’s ticket to Wyoming (near Grand Rapids). The homer gave Elyria a 3-2 victory over Dayton Hardscrabble in the state final.
“Very exciting,” Fitch said. “I was watching the outfielder’s back as I was rounding first base. I was about halfway between first and second when I saw it land. I knew it would be either a home run or a catch because I hit it so high.”
Fitch clobbered a 2-0 count after the first two pitches were in the dirt.
For Brubaker, the state championship was his ninth, with three regional tournament titles. For the players, however, this is a new experience.
“We’re all pretty excited, and also pretty confident,” Capelety said. “After we won the first game (7-0 over Geneva) in the state tournament we gained a lot of confidence.”
“We were confident even though we hadn’t played much together,” Stewart said. “Some of us are EHS and some are EC. But we’ve been solid all around and consistent.”
“They wanted this,” Brubaker said. “They worked hard for it. This was their last chance for something like this before they all go off to college. I’m real happy for them.”
The team leaves for Michigan today. The first game is Friday at 2:30 p.m., against the host team, the winner of the Michigan District 9 tournament.
Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.