History is made — Flyers are state runner-up


AKRON — For the second time, Heath put an end to any hopes of a state baseball championship by a Wood County team.

From Licking County, Heath defeated Lake, 3-1, on Sunday to win the Division III state title at Canal Park, the home of the Akron RubberDucks, the Cleveland Guardians Double-A affiliate.

In 2007, Heath (22-7) defeated the Ben Hammer-led Elmwood (26-7) squad, coached by Kyle Reiser, 6-3, in the D-III state title game.

This year’s championship is the third all-time for Heath (28-2), but Lake (28-5) made history of its own, playing in the school’s first-ever state title game in any team sport, finishing as state runner-up.

“This is as far as any team has ever made it in any season and to be part of that team is a great feeling,” Lake junior Drew Tajblik said. “We’ll be in the history books forever until we die.”

Senior infielder and pitcher Ryan Wagner said it did not take long to realize this was going to be a special season.

“Right about halfway through the season when we were 12-0, I was like, ‘We are winning. We’ve been able to hit the ball, we’re able to pitch the ball,’ and the feeling was just the exact same at the start of the tournament run,” Wagner said. “We’re not going to stop.”

Lake third-year coach Casey Witt, a Lake alum, added, “I just told this senior group, and the whole group as a whole, there is nothing worse for us coaches than having to say goodbye at the end of the year, but the cool thing about this team is we’re going to be etched together in history and we don’t ever have to say goodbye. It’s pretty cool.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Witt continued. “One of the things they’ve done all year is they competed every inning that we played, right from the first pitch to the last pitch. Today was no different.”

Witt said the chemistry on the team was not hard to spot, in practice, off the field, or on the field.

“It is the same thing all year,” Witt said. “This group, 13 guys, just cared about each other. They love each other and they love to compete. They bought into what we coached every day in practice and they translate it from practice to the field.”

Witt admitted that losing in the state championship game was a bitter way to end the season.

“Of course, you should feel disappointed. That is why you come here, right? That’s why we compete,” Witt said. “In terms of other emotions, I’m sure that I will be able to put that into words at a later date, but right now in terms of being able to feel, I can’t do that.”

Lake seniors are Wagner, catcher/outfielder Connor Eck, outfielders Dylan Manz and Aiden Young and infielder Caleb Tobias.

Wagner, who was the losing pitcher in the state final to finish 9-4, said he relished the responsibility that came with being a senior and a leader.

“It feels amazing,” Wagner said. “To be able to be in the senior class, to be the leaders of the group, there is no better feeling. You’re literally the top of the age and being able to lead everyone else to get them to where they need to be is awesome.”

Lake also started six underclassmen most of the season and Sunday, and Wagner says that bodes well for the future of the program.

“I think they will be able to bounce back,” Wagner said. “They are going to lose us and it’s going to hit them a little bit, and I think they’ll be able to find their way to win ballgames and compete.”

Witt says as soon as they get past finishing the season as state runner-up, it’s off to work preparing for next year.

“I’m sure when I sit and reflect the next few weeks, that will be one of the bright spots that we started six underclassmen on a state runner-up team. It certainly gives us a good foundation for next year,” Witt said.

Tajblik, who has already committed to the University of Toledo despite being an underclassmen, says the returning starters already have goals in mind for next year, and one of them is returning to the state tournament.

“We’re going to be just as good next year,” Tajblik said. “We’ll need some guys to step up, but we’ll be just as good and we are going to be right back here next year.”

Motivating Tajblik even more was watching the presentation of the state championship trophy to Heath.

“It was hard to watch that, thinking that could have been us,” Tajblik said. “You’ve just got to move on.”

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