SOUTH AMHERST — Firelands High School senior Cole Sklarek didn’t want to spend another summer playing travel baseball.
He figured he had a better idea: stay close to home, get his best friends together and take care of some unfinished business.
So Sklarek spent last fall and winter convincing his friends and family members to give Hot Stove Baseball another shot.
Along the way they’d spend their final summer of youth baseball together, concentrating on good times and good friends and maybe even winning that state championship that had always eluded them.
So far it looks like Sklarek and company made a wise decision.
The Firelands South Amherst Class E (ages 15-18) team is 15-2 and plays Southeast Palmyra in the Hot Stove state semifinals today at 2 p.m.
A season of dreams, in other words.
“One way or another these are the guys I have played ball with every year almost my entire life,” Sklarek said. “Going into my senior year I just wanted to get together with my old buddies and a couple of my cousins and just have some fun.”
Sklarek, a member of the Firelands High varsity team, played travel ball for the Lake Erie Thunder the past two years.
One of his cousins, recent Midview graduate Dylan Steindl, couldn’t be happier with the way things have turned out.
“Cole told me about the team and I was like, ‘Why not, it will be a good time for the summer,’” said Steindl, whose brother Austin is also on the team. “I’ve been in travel ball the past few years but this has been so much better, playing with my friends and my brother. A whole bunch of guys on this team played together when we were little kids.”
Sklarek, Dylan Steindl, Johnny Sigsworth, Jake Abrahamowicz, Ryan Barnes and Steve Pete represent the core players on the team. They began their baseball careers together and stayed together until the age of 12 when they played in a tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y., site of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
After that, middle school and travel baseball pulled the friends in different directions.
“We all figured after that big tournament in Cooperstown we’d all break up and go our separate ways,” Sklarek said. “That was crazy. There were so many good teams and so many good players. It was really a totally different world of baseball. Once we saw that, we started gravitating towards traveling teams.”
With the players on board, all that was left was to find a coach.
Enter Scott Smith.
Smith’s son, Casey, was expected to be a key member of the team before he suffered an injury playing AAU basketball earlier this year.
“Kathy Sklarek (Cole’s mother) asked me if I would coach this team and I knew there were a bunch of really good guys on the team so I jumped at the chance,” said Smith, who has been coaching Hot Stove for nearly a decade. “This is the easiest team I’ve ever had to deal with. Everybody just jumped into place. They just want to play baseball together. All I have to do is write the lineup.”
After the team scored 10 or more runs in each of its first four games, Smith realized not only did he have a team full of good guys, he also had some pretty good ballplayers as well.
Dylan Steindl and Josh Buchanan have been the go-to guys on the pitching staff.
“I knew we’d be good but I didn’t really know how good,” Smith said. “After about the third game I realized what kind of hitters we really had, and we have a couple of really good pitchers to go along with it.”
The Class E tournament is double-elimination in the regional rounds so Firelands South Amherst and Southeast Palmyra already played two weeks ago in Grafton with Firelands coming out on top 10-8.
Southeast Palmyra worked its way through the losers bracket to force today’s rematch. The winner will play either the Southeast Pirates or the North Ridgeville Rays in Sunday’s state championship game.
First baseman Logan Sittinger was not one of the original six players, but he’s been friends with Sklarek and many other members of the team for years.
Despite the fact he has not played baseball for two years he wanted to be a part of this team.
“It’s been a blast.” said Sittinger, who was a member of the Firelands varsity basketball team. “Playing ball with my friends and winning. I’ve been around these guys for who knows how long. We’re all buddies.”
Tristan Clark, Brad Deremiah, Bryce Bartolotta and Dylan Newman round out the roster.
Sklarek said he was a part of some Hot Stove teams that had impressive regular-season records but never made it as far as the state championship game.
“It would be so exciting to win the state tournament,” Sklarek said. “It would kinda be like redemption for never winning it before. We always wanted it back then and we’ve talked about that through the years. Now we’re back and we have one more opportunity.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Medina Monsters vs. Alliance Dunkin Donuts, 2 p.m., field 4; Wellington Advantage Construction vs. Rootstown Paulus, 2:30 p.m., field 3
Final: Sunday, 2 p.m., field 4
Canton Warriors vs. Rootstown Weese, 4:30 p.m., field 4; Alliance Lions Club vs. North Olmsted MK Auto, 7 p.m., field 4
Final: Sunday, 4:30 p.m., field 4
Alliance Ohio Rack vs. Mogadore Flying Squirrel, 9 a.m., field 4; Buckeye Halleen Kia vs. Champion Giants, 11:30 a.m., field 4
Final: Sunday, 11:30 a.m., field 4
Canton Predators vs. Rootstown Vasbinder, 9:30 a.m., field 3; Promos Unlimited vs. Keystone Houston, noon, field 3
Final: Sunday, 12:30 p.m., field 3
Alliance Traps Sports vs. Garfield Reds, 7:30 p.m., field 3; Mogadore Wildcats vs. Firelands Storm, 5 p.m., field 3
Final: Sunday, 3:30 p.m., field 3
Suffield All Pro Sports vs. Medina Rangers, 9:30 a.m., field 2; Plain Local vs. South Amherst Firelands, noon, field 2
Final: Sunday, 1 p.m., field 2
Palmyra Dean’s Fence vs. Firestone Park Rams, 2:30 p.m., field 2; Champion Blue Jays vs. Columbia Morgan Truck, 5 p.m., field 2
Final: Sunday, 4 p.m., field 2
Midview Cavanaugh Electric vs. Sheffield Venom, 9 a.m., field 1; Brimfield Redbirds vs. Alliance Stanley Steamer, 11:30 a.m., field 1
Final: Sunday, noon, field 1
South Amherst Firelands vs. Southeast Palmyra, 2 p.m., field 1; North Ridgeville Rays vs. Southeast Pirates, 4;30 p.m., field 1
Final: Sunday, 3 p.m., field 1
All games at Butler Rodman Park, Alliance