Tallmadge baseball coach Kenny Linn entered this season with high expectations for a Blue Devils team that boasted just one senior.
Why did Linn feel so good about this group?
Because the Tallmadge junior class is a strong one filled with pitchers, hitters and fielders that man a majority of the positions.
In total, Tallmadge (23-7) receives regular contributions from eight juniors as it readies for a Division II state semifinal appearance at 7 p.m. Thursday against Maumee (22-8) at Huntington Park in Columbus.
“We really expected that that junior group had the possibility of having a great two years as upperclassmen, and they’ve done it so far this year,” Linn said.
Juniors Phillip Glasser, Scott Seeker, Zach Boyd, Jared Burick and Seth Gergely played on a Division II regional semifinal team two years ago as freshmen, and the five were starters last weekend when Tallmadge beat Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin 3-1 and Canfield 3-2 in regional games at the Ball Park at Hudson.
“The whole season, we have always had good team chemistry and we have all been good friends,” said Glasser, Tallmadge’s shortstop and leadoff hitter. “The last two games, when things got tough, we all pulled together and we all got the job done.”
Boyd was Tallmadge’s starting pitcher Friday in the win over NDCL and Burick took to the mound at the start of Saturday’s triumph over Canfield. The Blue Devils’ top relief pitcher is another junior, Mikah McGlaughlin, who pitched in each victory.
Sophomore Rich Eyre is Tallmadge’s catcher. Scott Seeker (first base), junior Jake Rensel (second base), Glasser (shortstop) and Gergely (right field) are also mainstays.
When Boyd pitched, Linn started sophomore Jake Reifsnyder at third base, sophomore Sam Seeker in left field and Burick in center field.
When Burick pitched, Linn’s lineup had Boyd at third base, junior Derek Lightel in left field and Sam Seeker in center field.
The lone senior — Josh Taylor — is the designated hitter. Glasser, Gergely, Boyd and Scott Seeker bat in front of Taylor. Burick, Rensel, Sam Seeker and Eyre round out the order.
“A couple years back when these kids were freshmen, we got here and we left heartbroken after the regional semifinal against Poland Seminary who went on to the state championship game and lost [to Defiance],” Taylor said. “We started the year thinking we were the No. 1 team in the state and we are looking to prove that this week.”
Taylor was a junior varsity player two years ago as a sophomore who joined the varsity in the postseason. He has become a senior leader on a team full of juniors.
“Those kids have been together ever since they were six or seven years old,” Taylor said of the juniors.
“Being just one year above them, I’ve been watching them and their brotherhood is just ridiculous. I love them all. They treat me with respect and I treat them with respect. We have great team camaraderie.”
Glasser said experience has helped this team become more comfortable with each other.
“This junior class I’ve played with my whole life and they are great baseball players,” McGlaughlin said. “I’m glad to be on the team with them.”
Tallmadge is seeking its second state championship after winning the Division II state title in 2002 under coach Don Seeker, who is now the school’s athletic director and the father of Scott and Sam.
Tallmadge was runner-up in 2001, 2000, 1996 and 1966.
“At the beginning of the year, we set a goal that 15 years has been too long for a state tournament appearance,” Taylor said. “The last time we won the title was 2002, and we have taken that approach where we worked hard all off-season and going into [last weekend] we knew we could win and to play to our potential.”
Linn said the friendships on the team help the Blue Devils succeed.
“[Friday night], when I left them to stay and scout [the Canfield and Chagrin Falls regional semifinal game at Hudson], I said ‘Go hang out together. Go eat, order pizza, hang out in the basement of somebody’s house; stay together.’
“[Saturday morning] they went to breakfast together and hung out before the game.”
Steubenville (28-4) and Dayton Chaminade Julienne (22-4) will meet at 4 p.m. Thursday in the other Division II state semifinal. The state championship is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“We have two games left,” Scott Seeker said. “This has been a crazy ride. We’ve been confident but not cocky and had the feeling that we could beat anybody. We just want to keep that going and keep the right amount of confidence going into every game.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the #ABJVarsity high school blog at www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MBeavenABJ.