Flyers look back at 1956, 2001 state semifinalists


By Nicholas Huenefeld

Special to the Sentinel-Tribune

MILLBURY — The Lake baseball team completed the best season in the school’s history on Sunday, falling 3-1 in the Division III state championship game to No. 2 Heath.

In doing so, the Flyers made former players and coaches proud and brought back some fond memories from the members of the program’s previous two state semifinal appearances in 2001 and 1956.

‘They just kept winning’

The 1956 team, led by a young Jerry Omori, completed an improbable run to the Class B state semifinals in Columbus.

“That was the least talented team I had, but they just kept winning,” Omori said. “They were a bunch of winners. We had one of the best defensive teams.”

Omori, who also taught biology at the school, arrived at Lake just one year prior, taking over the baseball program shortly after completing a Hall of Fame playing career at BGSU, where he hit a MAC and school record .469 in 1953.

In his first season at Lake in 1955, Omori took what he called the most talented team of his nine-year career at the school to the regional semifinals before falling in a heartbreaker, 1-0, to Deshler.

That team was stacked, and the 1955 team’s postseason run included back-to-back no-hitters in the district tournament over the span of three days from Wade Diefenthaler and Myron Schwartzwalder.

Following that season, Omori then lost nearly every starter from that team due to graduation and was told by a member of the administration, “you’ll never have a team like that again.”

Instead, the Flyers used strong pitching and defense to earn the school’s first-ever state semifinal appearance, completing an unlikely run.

Chuck Hyre, a junior centerfielder for the Flyers in 1956, moved to the area from Pittsburgh midway through his sophomore year.

“We were just having a lot of fun,” Hyre said. “I’m not sure we really understood what we accomplished. We were just playing baseball.”

Having not played for his previous school, Hyre was enticed to go out for the team after shagging balls with his neighbor, Wayne Thornton, who was a pitcher and outfielder for the Flyers.

Little did he know the history that awaited him.

The 1956 team had to win the Wood County tournament in the fall just to qualify for the spring tournament, and they breezed past Jackson Township and Tontogany in the first two games, highlighted by Kenny DeVaul’s no-hitter against Tontogany in the quarterfinals.

It was then Bob Schwartzwalder’s turn. First, he tossed a no-hitter with nine strikeouts to lead Lake over Liberty, 3-0, in the semifinals before setting down 11 more in a 6-2 win over Portage in the championship.

“We expected to win,” Hyre said. “I don’t particularly know why, but that was just the attitude. We had a great time as far as being a team together. You never knew who was going to produce something.”

Lake opened the sectional tournament with a win over Stryker before taking down Pettisville 4-2 in the championship despite being held to two hits.

Hyre, who largely credits the coaching of Omori for the team’s success, said there were several innings where the team scored runs without hits. One such moment stood out in particular.

With two outs, a runner on third and Hyre at bat, Omori called a timeout.

“Charlie, this guy is going to walk you,” he said. “Hit the ball if you have to, but he’s probably going to walk you. When he does, I want you to go down to first base, make the turn and keep going. Do not get tagged out until we score.”

Hyre walked, and Lake scored the run.

“The catcher got all excited and threw the ball to second,” Hyre said. “When my career was over, I thought, that was a pretty gutsy call. I guess he had more faith in me than I knew.”

Next up for Lake was a chance at revenge against Deshler in the district championship, where Schwartzwalder had a double and a home run while teaming with Thornton and Dick LeCrone on the mound to give Lake a 7-2 win.

Coincidentally, that Deshler team was coached by Garrold Parratt, who the baseball field at Patrick Henry is now named after, which is the field on which this year’s Lake baseball team won the regional championship.

The team’s ability to manufacture runs with zero or few hits also came into play in the 9-2 regional semifinal win over New Washington. The Flyers struck out 14 times but drew 11 walks and scored in all but one inning.

Hyre scored three runs on three walks. George Baker had two doubles and scored twice. Schwartzwalder had a double and a triple. Thornton started on the mound before Schwartzwalder took over in the third inning for the duration.

“We assumed we were never going to get beat,” Hyre said. “That was just the assumption. We were playing another team, these are the things Jerry told us to do. If we do them, we’ll win. We always had that attitude that we were going to win.”

That set up a regional championship game against Gomer, a team that came in 25-1 on the season. Lecrone starred in the game, tossing almost six innings while going 4-for-4 with a double to lead Lake to a 4-3 win. In the fourth inning, he drove in the game-winning run on a single to left center.

Hyre, who scored the game’s opening run after a leadoff walk, drew a walk on six of his first nine plate appearances in the regional tournament.

Schwartzwalder, who relieved Lecrone with two outs in the sixth, struck out the final batter with a runner on third to send Lake to Columbus.

In the state semifinal, Lake lost 2-1 to Cincinnati Greenhills in a game that lasted 70 minutes. The deciding run came on a two-run home run in the third inning on unfortunate circumstances.

At the time, nearly all games were played without a fence, but not this game, and it cost Lake, which led 1-0 at the time of the deciding hit in the third.

“I was in centerfield, ran back and thought if this damn fence weren’t here, I could catch that,” Hyre said. “There was no doubt. I could have caught it. It was the only time I remember a fence stopping me from going after a ball.”

One thing that Omori said also benefited Lake baseball at the time was the consolidation of Lake and Walbridge into one school just a few years prior.

“Most of my best ballplayers came from Walbridge,” Omori said.

In 2004, Lake inducted its first members into the team wing of the athletic hall of fame, and the 1956 squad was among the first class.

Three members of that team are also currently in Lake’s hall of fame as individuals: Baker (1985), Schwartzwalder (1985) and Omori (1993).

Myron Schwartzwalder, who graduated in 1955 before playing at BGSU, is also in there as an individual.

“I think that for us it was a bunch of guys, for the most part, who were probably just average ballplayers, with some exceptions,” Hyre said. “We didn’t have anyone who did it all. There were just a lot of guys who contributed in different ways. We didn’t think we were doing anything that we shouldn’t be doing. We were just playing ball.”

Felt like we had 20th guy

For Lake’s 2001 senior class, everything changed when fellow classmate Joe Abraham passed away in a tragic car-train accident on Sept. 29, 2000.

Abraham, who was a key member of the baseball and football teams at Lake, was described as the “quintessential student-athlete” in the Sept. 30, 2000 edition of the Sentinel-Tribune.

In the fall, the football team fought through the emotions and rallied to achieve one of Joe’s goals, the school’s first-ever state playoff appearance before suffering a heartbreaking loss to Huron.

“It was tough,” said then-junior Scott Conley, who won three postseason games that year as Lake’s No. 1 pitcher. “(Joe) was my brother’s best friend, he was everybody’s best friend.”

Lake’s 19-member baseball team that year was loaded with veteran talent and high expectations, but they started off with a slow 12-5 record, which was punctuated by a 9-1 loss to Otsego on May 2 as Jake Sautter two-hit the Flyers.

From there, Lake won 11 straight en route to the state semifinals before falling to the defending champion, Youngstown Ursuline. Along the way, they finished 23-6 and claimed a share of the program’s first Suburban Lakes League title since 1990.

“We had a lot of talent, but started off average,” said then-senior Steve Conley, who is Scott’s brother. “I remember coming back after the Otsego game saying we need to turn this around. We need to do something here. From that moment on, we went on that streak. It was a great run.”

The team’s lone sophomore was third baseman, Jon Reynolds, who played a key role down the stretch for the team while hitting just over .400.

In a come-from-behind win over Elmwood to secure a share of the SLL title on May 22, Reynolds was intentionally walked one batter before Ryan Pannell’s game-winning, two-run double in the sixth inning.

Reynolds then had the game-winning, two-run bloop single in the sixth to cap a four-run, come-from-behind rally to help Lake take down Genoa 8-6 in the sectional final.

“It was just awesome,” Reynolds said. “I was the youngest one on the team and just happy to be a part of it. That was probably my best offensive year. I was just trying to do my part and stay out of the way. It was a fun ride. I wanted to do it for the seniors.”

Later on, Reynolds was a senior on the 2003 regional final team and remains the only player in program history to play in two regional final games.

Senior shortstop Eddie Severhof, who still holds the program’s school records for batting average in a season (.560, 1999), batting average in a career (.470) and hits in a career (141) played an integral role on the team.

As did senior catcher Jason Kapp-Magnone, who still owns the program’s career RBI record (101).

Lake opened postseason play that year with an 8-0 win over Woodmore that featured a five-hit shutout from Scott Conley. In the sectional final against Genoa, Mike Sanders entered in relief for Conley in the sixth with one on and one out and Genoa up 6-4.

Sanders proceeded by getting out of the jam and retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced. Meanwhile, Conley flipped positions with him in centerfield and immediately made a sliding catch to take away a hit.

“It’s amazing how that works out,” Conley said. “We flip-flopped, and the very first ball goes to the guy who just got taken out. It’s just one of those things. We just kind of rode with those things and gained momentum off of things like that.”

Sanders proceeded to get a leadoff single in the home half of the sixth, starting a four-run rally that was capped by the big hit from Reynolds.

That victory, along with the SLL-clinching win over Elmwood, were examples of how the team felt Abraham was there with them.

“That’s how it felt down the stretch,” Steve Conley said. “It felt like we had that 20th guy in our dugout with us every game. It was tough not being able to get it done for him, but I feel like he was there all season. We played for him a lot, same with football. He was in our heart. You wanted to win for him.”

After clinching the sectional title over Genoa, who had ended the team’s previous two postseason runs in 1999 and 2000, Lake moved onto the district final, where they defeated Archbold 5-2.

“The big thing was the competitive spirit of that team,” said Greg Wilker, Lake’s head coach that season. “I carried 19 that year, which was our most ever, but I had some really good players. We had nine seniors, nine juniors and one sophomore.

“It was very competitive at practice. Jason and Eddie were outstanding players, but others had to compete day in and day out. We’d have intrasquad games with the juniors and sophomores against the seniors. They’d get after it.”

Scott Conley needed just 87 pitches to dispatch Archbold’s 15-game winning streak, while Severhof made two nice defensive plays at short.

Conley’s hot stretch continued in a regional semifinal win over Otsego, where he struck out 12 batters while going 3-for-4 with two RBIs at the plate.

That set up another revenge game in the regional final against Huron.

Senior Matt DeLauter tossed a complete game victory on the mound, while also executing a game-winning suicide squeeze in a tie game with one out in the seventh, plating Scott Conley for the go-ahead run in the 3-1 win.

“(That run) was great,” Scott Conley said. “It was always fun, especially when you’re young. It was something that I’ll never forget. It was a great experience. I loved it.”

Despite a 6-1 loss to Youngstown Ursuline in the state semifinals at Ohio State’s Bill Davis Stadium, the 2001 team made Wood County’s first trip to the final four since Northwood in 1990.

That Northwood team featured Jason Blazevich. His son, Jay, played a huge role on Lake’s run this year to the championship game as a second baseman and pitcher.

Steve Conley, who was in attendance for Lake’s games this past weekend, said one of his great memories from that year was getting to play at Bill Davis Stadium.

“That was just a great experience,” he said after Lake’s semifinal win on Saturday. “These guys here get a chance to play in a minor league stadium. They’re going to remember this the rest of their lives.

“I still remember how big that stadium was. I’ve been there many times after, and every time I go there and watch Ohio State play, I remember we were on this field playing here. It was a great time.”

Community support

Scott and Steve Conley, along with their younger brother, Bryan, who also played baseball at Lake before graduating in 2006, were in attendance for Lake’s semifinal win over Minford on Saturday.

“I love it,” Scott said. “I think it’s absolutely amazing for the community. It’s great to see the kids have something to rally the community together with, especially something that’s never been done in our town.”

Jerry Omori’s daughter, Carol, was also there along with many other former players and coaches, including Wilker, who coached Lake from 1985 to 2021.

“It was very exciting,” Wilker said. “That’s one thing I was very fortunate for as a coach. The Lake community love baseball, and sports in general, but they love baseball, and they play it at a young age. So do other teams in the area. That’s why it’s such a competitive league. It’s very good baseball, and Lake proved it advancing to the state finals.”

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