November 21, 2014

Medina
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Buckeye’s 1977 baseball team inducted into Medina County Hall of Fame

The players who scored the most runs during the 1977 Buckeye baseball team’s run to the Class AA state semifinals batted .111 and .133. Another player scored four times without stepping into the batter’s box.

The pitchers walked 41 and allowed 55 hits in 48 playoff innings, meaning two opposing players reached base per inning, on average. The Bucks also were tied or trailing heading into the fifth inning in five of their seven postseason games.

Thirty-five-year-old coach Bob Kramer’s very experienced team kept scratching, clawing and fighting to the bitter end against all odds. There have been more flashy teams to come through Medina County, but few — if any — were better in pressure-packed moments.

Buckeye came within one run of a monumental upset against stacked Deer Park out of Cincinnati, which would have put it in the state championship game.

For their efforts, the Bucks will be inducted into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame during ceremonies June 12 at The Galaxy Restaurant in Wadsworth.

“It just seemed on our team every kid had a personality and every kid’s personality was different from every other kid,” Kramer said. “Somehow, we had the quiet ones, we had the boisterous ones, the funny ones, the serious ones, but on the baseball field they believed in each other that we were going to win. After we won our first couple games and they were close, they started believing. It didn’t matter if we were behind.

“It went that way until the last game. Even until the last out was made at Ohio State in the (state) semifinal game, they still thought we were going to pull it out. When that game ended, there were a bunch of guys who were really, really down. There was some magical feeling that the kids all had.”

The 17-11 record was deceiving because Buckeye had great depth, played defense, bunted and ran the bases with the best of them. The Bucks were seasoned baseball junkies, as many of the players competed for the highly successful Litchfield and Valley City Hot Stove teams.

Laid-back ace Mark Andos was drafted out of Cuyahoga Community College by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1980 and struck out nearly two batters per inning. Catcher and team MVP Joe Walter led nearly every offensive category, No. 2 hitter Tim Tighe had tremendous range in center field, businesslike corner outfielder Jerry Young hit .583 in the postseason and curveball specialist Kirk Cullin made an eye-popping number of critical pitches in relief.

What made the season so special, however, were clutch at-bats from role players like designated hitter Terry Haury, slick-fielding middle infielders Mike Joyce (the talkative one) and Mike Reusch (the field general), utility man Keith Winebrenner, corner outfielder Mark Campanalie and first baseman Terry Powers.

“It was awesome, you know? It was a dream come true,” said Andos, who turned down the pro offer to pitch two years at Dallas Baptist University and now works in construction. “Not too many people get to do it and we were a small-town school, too. Back in those days Buckeye wasn’t as big as it is now. It was a bunch of guys that grew up playing ball together and they all jelled that year.

“We were a bunch of guys who didn’t want to give up. We were good athletes and ballplayers and had been playing together for years and years and years. There was a little luck involved — key hits, key outs and calls that went our way — but I’m sure we earned what we got, too.”

The 1976 team won the Inland Conference but was knocked out in sectionals despite featuring record-smashing Jim Walter, who remains one of the winningest pitchers in state history. It was a bitter bill to swallow one year after reaching the state semifinals.

Though Walter graduated, 10 of the other 11 players that appeared in the ‘76 season finale returned and the beefy non-league schedule set up by Kramer had two games apiece against huge Class AAA schools Brunswick (20-8 record), Wadsworth (25-11) and Admiral King.

The Bucks went 2-4 in those games, but a 4-3 eight-inning loss to Brunswick in the Medina County Tournament on May 30 was telling. The Blue Devils won the previous meeting 14-2 one month earlier.

Deflecting much of the credit to this day, Kramer felt the players already knew the fundamentals thanks to the top-notch efforts of youth coaches Ermando Simmons and Pete Miller. All Kramer had to do was refine skills and make on-the-fly coaching moves.

Seemingly everything worked.

“He would really let people try to work out whatever situation they were in,” Young said. “That’s probably the biggest thing. It meant different things at different times for different players, but he was consistent.”

Buckeye began its run with a 3-0 sectional semifinal win over Brooklyn at what is now James H. Tighe Field. Young’s RBI single and Powers’ two-run home run that landed on state Route 252 accounted for the runs.

Andos struck out 13 in 5⅔ innings, but the hero was Cullin in relief — twice. Cullin entered with the bases loaded and no outs in the first inning and got a 1-2-3 double play and fly out, then ended the game with a strikeout with two on.

It was a sign of things to come.

The hair-raising moments continued, as Buckeye, still feeling the effects of an 11-2 loss to winless Firelands the day before, was tied at 2 with Oberlin heading into the bottom of the sixth of the sectional finals.

The rally began when pinch-hitter Winebrenner singled and sub Campanalie, who was filling in for the injured Young, beat out a bunt. Reusch then walked, setting up Haury’s two-run single. Cullin drove in two more and errors capped the scoring in an 8-2 victory. Andos went the distance and struck out 16, including the final seven.

The victory put Buckeye in the Cuyahoga County Community College West District semifinals against longtime rival Highland. Behind four one-hit innings from 1978 Gazette MVP Mike Houska, the Hornets led 2-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth.

New heroes came forward for the Bucks.

Haury and Reusch walked and Andos singled to load the bases with no outs. Houska struck out the next two batters, but Joyce stroked a two-run single to tie the game.

In the sixth, Tighe singled and Cullin reached on a fielder’s choice in which Tighe was safe at second. Reusch singled to right to load the bases again, and Andos walked to push across the go-ahead run.

Andos took care of the rest by allowing zero runs, a double and two walks over the final three innings.

Defending district champion Lorain Catholic was a decided favorite in the next game, but Buckeye roared to a 4-0 lead after 5½ innings.

Cullin and Andos then saved each other.

Andos allowed an unearned run in the sixth and issued his sixth and seventh walks with two outs, but Cullin relieved and got a 3-1 groundout.

Cullin then got into trouble in the seventh by yielding a run and putting runners on second and third with one out. Andos moved over to pitch and loaded the bases with a walk but got a pop-up for the second out.

Buckeye appeared to be on the verge of ending the game until a seemingly harmless groundball was muffed by Joyce at short. Two runs scored on the play, but Joyce redeemed himself with a 6-3 putout to give Andos a rare win/save combo and snare the school’s third district title in seven years.

The Bucks advanced to the Barberton Regional with plenty of theatrics. Amazingly, the next two games made the previous four feel like afterthoughts.

Buckeye trailed Benedictine 3-1 through four innings yet scored six runs with two outs in the fifth. RBI hits by Cullin and Haury gave the Bucks the lead, setting the stage for Young to blast a three-run home run to left-center that set off a wild celebration in the dugout.

“I always played pretty well at Barberton,” Young said. “I did well there in the 1975 tournament. That was a game we needed to have. Someone needed to step up, and there you go.

“I remember my reaction at the time: He got something up where I could see it really well. I took advantage of it.”

Young touching home proved to be the deciding run of the game.

Staked to a 7-3 lead, Andos was relieved by Cullin, who allowed a two-run single before getting out of trouble.

Andos took the mound again in the seventh and gave up a solo homer to Mark Medovice that made it 7-6. Cullin again relived Andos — this time with one out — and issued a walk and sacrifice bunt to move runners to second and third.

Undaunted, Cullin struck out John Szuch to end the game.

The late-inning drama continued in the regional finals against Campbell Memorial.

Buckeye trailed 3-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth and was getting one-hit by Rocco DeMart. The deficit would have been worse if outfielders Young and Campanalie hadn’t thrown out runners — Campanalie nabbed his at the plate.

“When we were all healthy, we were lethal as a set of outfielders,” Young said. “As an outfield trio, we could cover so much ground and we all had great arms. It won games for us.”

Young started the comeback with a single and steal. Reusch and Powers walks were then sandwiched around Young getting caught in a rundown, putting two on with one out.

DeMart was yanked, but Campanalie greeted Paul Dubos with an RBI double that made it 3-1. Walter drove in the second run on a sacrifice fly and Campanalie scored on an error to tie the game.

The Bucks forged ahead in the sixth, when Cullin, who pitched a complete game, tripled and Andos bounced a grounder into center field for the go-ahead RBI.

“The kids got to believing, ‘I don’t have to do it today because someone else will if I don’t,’” Kramer said. “There was no pressure on those kids. They never thought, ‘I had to be the one.”‘

A party of fans greeted Buckeye when it returned to the school. The Bucks’ reward was their second trip in three seasons to Ohio State University and a date with top-ranked Deer Park, a defending state semfinalist.

To put it mildly, the 28-2 Wildcats were loaded and entered play with a 17-game win streak. Ace Jim Gross was 17-1 and later drafted as a hitter by the Yankees out of Miami of Ohio, and Bob Boyce, the 22nd overall pick in the 1978 MLB Draft, was hitting .560.

Young started for the ‘75 team and Andos, Cullin, Powers and Cullin also made the trip. They weren’t intimidated this time around after losing to Bryan two years prior.

That was evident when Buckeye took a 2-0 lead on a suicide squeeze — one of Kramer’s staples — and a sacrifice fly, but Deer Park had Andos dialed in and left the bases loaded in the first.

It didn’t get better, as the Wildcats scored five runs on six walks and two singles in the second.

Facing a 5-2 hole, Cullin, who Kramer now compares to Cincinnati Red starter Mike Leake because of the movement of his pitches, kept Buckeye afloat by not allowing a runner to advance past second base the rest of the game.

The Bucks then almost pulled off a miracle.

With two outs in the fourth, Andos reached on an error and scored on a double by Young. Reusch drove in Young three pitches later and moved to second on an error, but the inning stalled and Buckeye trailed 5-4.

Unfortunately for the Bucks, their last chances were duds. Walter was stranded on third in the fifth and a two-on, one-out scenario went for naught in the sixth.

The luck ran out, as Gross went 1-2-3 in the seventh and Deer Park crushed Coldwater 6-0 for its only state championship.

“When you’re a player, it happens so fast that you don’t have a lot of time to overthink it, which at that age is probably a very good thing,” Young said. “To get back again is very, very difficult.

“You can’t overstate it, but when you’re playing it’s all about the game in front of you. Once the first pitch starts, that kind of notoriety is not part of the day, but you can’t under-appreciate it. It’s so hard to do.”

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.