NEWARK - Postgame fireworks put an exclamation point on the first Licking County All-Star Baseball Game on Saturday night. The players had a blast beforehand, too.
Graduated players from the Licking County League Cardinal Division proved bigger isn't necessarily better. Representing the area's smallest schools, they won 10-8 against the bigger schools (Newark and the LCL Buckeye Division) before a nice-sized crowd at Don Edwards Park.
"There wasn't a whole lot of strategy," admitted small school head coach Jeremy Young, the jayvee coach at Northridge. "We just wanted to let them play the game and have fun, and play one more time with their friends. It was a pretty good way for some of them to end their baseball careers."
Others will continue collegiately. Heath's Bailey McCord, headed to Findlay University, had resigned himself to the fact his summer was going to end in a 1-for-11 slump with his travel team. Instead, he drilled a game-breaking, three-run double to deep left-center field in the sixth inning, and also finished off the win on the mound with a pair of strikeouts.
"I thought it was going out, but they said I better keep on running," he said jokingly about his decisive shot. "When I first heard about this, they said they might not have enough players. But it was a blast. They should have it every year."
McCord was joined by three of his Heath teammates, including winning reliever Tyler Karr who had an RBI single and drew a bases-loaded walk, and Simon Romine, who doubled and was the undisputed vocal leader in the dugout.
"He was a spark for us all season," McCord said. "He provided the mojo for us. Tonight was his last game, and he didn't hold anything back."
The game was also a welcome experience for Watkins Memorial's Drake Bauer, who gave up three runs in the first inning, but settled down and struck out seven over his four innings pitched. He also chopped a two-run single in a rare at bat.
"I've had some elbow issues, and I didn't pitch this summer for the Midwest Marlins," said Bauer, who will pitch at Sinclair Community College. "I hadn't thrown in a while, so I just had to wait for things to kick in. Once I work my way back, I should be fine.
"It was fun. It was nice to play with kids from the other schools."
The game was a see-saw affair, with errors and walks sometimes taking the spotlight, but it also featured some stellar defense and timely hitting. Newark Catholic's Tyler York turned in a couple of gems at third base, snaring a liner just off the grass and throwing to first for a double play. He also barehanded a chopper while charging and threw the runner out at first.
Lakewood's Tristan Warthman ripped an RBI triple to deep right-center in the first inning as the big schools chopped a 3-0 deficit to 3-2. Johnstown's Ty Helmke, who walked three times and scored twice, came home on Karr's infield single in the fifth as the small schools went up 4-2. But Bauer's two-run single in the bottom of the inning, after Newark's Jed Sherrick and Licking Valley's Lane McClurg had walked, helped stake the big schools to a 5-4 edge.
Although McCord's big hit capped a six-run sixth inning for a 10-5 lead, the big schools didn't go quietly. Watkins Memorial's James Bailey blooped a one-out, two-run double down the left field to make it 10-8, before McCord finally closed things out. The big schools out-hit the winners 7-5, with Valley's Gunnar Carpenter adding a double and McClurg stealing two bases.
McCord, McClurg, Helmke, Sherrick, Newark's Chad Moore and Northridge's Brandon Blankenship will compete in a home run derby at 6 p.m. Sunday at Don Edwards.
Adam Jenkins of the Licking County Family YMCA and Phil Henthorn came up with the idea for the all-star weekend. They were pleased with the initial results.
Tristan Warthman of Lakewood, playing for the big school team, slides safely into third base with a triple during the Licking County All-Star baseball game at Don Edwards Park Saturday night. (Photo: Jessica Phelps/The Advocate)
"We wanted a way to showcase the talent in Licking County," said Jenkins, a former Heath standout. "We have good baseball here, and it's something we wanted to put on display. We're really thrilled with the way the community turned out and supported this."
Discussions are already under way for a Licking County-Muskingum Valley game, similar to the one in football, starting next year. They would still like to have a Licking County game as well.
"We had some growing pains and bumps, but we'll fix them," Jenkins said. "We may re-structure some things, like having the all-star game and the home run derby on the same day, or having this earlier in the year."