The mood at practice Tuesday couldn’t have been more relaxed.
The Cloverleaf baseball players all but stopped to watch built-like-a-man, four-year starter Devin Cunningham blast batting practice pitches all over the field with a wooden bat. They ooo’d and ahh’d when two left the yard and playfully reminded Cunningham when the others didn’t.
The more telling visual, however, was every groundball, throw and fly ball was handled cleanly during the 20-minute span.
These are your daddy’s Cloverleaf Colts because junior first baseman Dillon Mullins’ father, Darren, was a senior in high school the last time the school had a winning season.
That is, until now.
A 27-year string of losing was snapped Monday with a 7-3 victory over Tallmadge. The Colts have a 12-9 record with one game remaining — Friday at home against the Blue Devils — thus guaranteeing a winning season.
“Beating the record that had stood for 26, 27 years, it feels real good to be the class to do it,” multi-year starter Dylan Horner said. “I’m sad we have to leave the Suburban League after next year because we can do a lot in this league.”
Since going 14-12 in 1987, Cloverleaf had one .500 record (11-11 in 2001) and 25 losing seasons. Its 194-420 mark — a laughable .316 winning percentage — was by far the worst in Medina County during that span.
This year was expected to be no different, at least on paper. The Colts were coming off a 4-20 season, and then got off to a 1-4 start this spring while scoring just eight runs.
A come-from-behind 8-6 win April 16 over defending Suburban League champion Nordonia changed everything, as it started a five-game winning streak that put the team above .500 for good.
“We knew we were a good team from the start of the season and we believed in ourselves,” pitcher Freddy Wells said. “We just took it one game at a time and then we got into that five-game winning streak. That really gave us some extra confidence in ourselves. We had to come out every day and give it 100 percent.”
The reasons for Cloverleaf’s eye-popping turnaround are like a mad scientist’s formula. No ingredient is far more important than the others and worthless on its own.
• The SL proved ripe for the picking, as only Wadsworth, Copley and (you guessed it) Cloverleaf will finish with winning records overall.
• The breakthroughs of Wells and younger brother Kenny give the pitching staff a solid one-two punch.
• The defense, led by rangy shortstop Tyler Hissom, bearded second baseman Horner and center fielder Cunningham, has committed two errors or less in 11 games.
• The quiet confidence of new coach Nick Ogurchak, a former professional player, has rubbed off on the players. Half of the victories are the come-from-behind variety, and only one loss has been shortened due to the mercy rule — a far cry from nine such instances over the last two seasons.
• Never underestimate new uniforms, either, as the Colts’ ugly home jerseys are modeled after the 1980s Houston Astros.
“We like to have fun,” Horner said, “but we know when to get serious.”
Ironically, Cloverleaf gained respect it deserved in a loss. The Colts led for more than six innings in a 4-3 eight-inning defeat to Medina — a school twice their size — in a Hudson Division I Sectional semifinal, ultimately extending a postseason losing skid that dates to 2002.
The chance to make up for that comes Friday, when Cloverleaf can do something it has never done: Secure its first winning season in the SL since joining the circuit in the 1997-98 school year.
Even when almost everyone else has nothing to play for, Cloverleaf finds a way to remain motivated.
That is the legacy of the 2014 baseball team.
“It’s really special,” Freddy Wells said. “It’s an honor to be on this team. We’ve got a great group of guys and a great group of seniors that kept us all together.
“It’s really humbling to be on a team that’s made history.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.