MARTINS FERRY - Each high school baseball season, one team in the Ohio Valley always seems to find its groove when tournament time rolls around.
This year, it was Bellaire.
The Big Reds caught fire late in the campaign and rode a wave of success all the way to the Division III regional semifinals before falling to Marion Elgin at Ohio State's Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium.
THE 2014 All-Times Leader Baseball Team is pictured. Bottom row, left to right, are Lucas Lloyd, Martins Ferry; Jacob Keiser, Barnesville; Colton Campbell, Shadyside; Zack Frizzi Shadyside; Bailey McGrath, Bridgeport; Parker Dyson, and Bridgeport; Q.J Williams, Bridgeport. Middle row, left to right, are Lewis Mitchell, St. Clairsville; Michael Jacob, St. Clairsville; Eric Banal, Buckeye Local; Eric Dierkes, River; Matt Dunfee, Union Local; Tanner Burkhart, Monroe Central; and Nick Staten, Harrison Central; Top row, from left, are Coach John Patrone, Bellaire; Wyatt Back, Bellaire; Spencer Badia, Bellaire; Hunter Westlake, Bellaire; Nick Patrone, Bellaire; and Dalton Rutter, Harrison Central.
Leading the way were a special group of players, four of which have been named to the All-Times Leader Baseball Team. They join 19 other diamond dandies. All told, 12 schools are represented.
Bellaire senior Nick Patrone, on the squad for a second time, is the team's captain. Big Reds' skipper, and Nick's dad, John Patrone, is its coach.
The team was selected by members of The Times Leader sports staff, along with input from area coaches.
A capsule on each honoree follows:
NICK PATRONE, Bellaire: Patrone returns to the squad after earning honorable mention all-Ohio honors, and first-team all-OVAC and all-Eastern district accolades.
The starting pitcher in the George Kovalick OVAC All-Star Game, Patrone boasted a 7-3 mark this spring with one save and a 1.66 ERA. He threw 63.1 innings, 97 strikeouts, 55 walks and held opposing batters to a .136 batting average.
Patrone also was solid at the plate. He finished high school with 245 Ks.
There, he batted .413 with 26 runs scored, 31 hits, 20 RBI, nine doubles and a homer, which a grand slam
''Nick worked hard all winter to get better,'' his dad, John, said. ''He came into this season wanting to lead this team on the mound and he wanted the ball.
SPENCER BADIA, Bellaire: Badia, a senior, appears on the team for the first time after a solid year at short and on the mound for the Big Reds.
Bellaire's other ace on the mound, Badia finished with a 4-3 record, with two saves and a 2.41 ERA. He threw 40.2 innings, had 34 strikeouts and 14 walks and held opposing batters to a .200 batting average.
At the plate, he finished his high school career with a .425 batting average.
Badia earned honorable mention all-state honors, and first team all-OVAC and all-Eastern District kudos. He also was selected to play in the OVAC All-Star Game.
''Like I said at the beginning of the season, having Spencer back was huge for us,'' Patrone said.
HUNTER WESTLAKE, Bellaire: A junior, Westlake possessed a nifty glove at third base for the Big Reds.
''Hunter had a great year, both offensively and defensively for us this season,'' Patrone said. ''He hit the ball hard all year and made so many great defensive plays for us.
Westlake finished with a .359 batting average, 19 runs scored, 23 hits, 22 RBI, eight doubles, two triples and one round tripper.
WYATT BACK, Bellaire: A senior behind the plate, Back was the Big Reds coach on the field.
''Wyatt has done a fantastic job for us behind the plate,'' Patrone said. ''Just as he did in football, without all of the big stats and press, he worked hard back there and was quietly one of the top defensive catchers in the valley.
Back finished with a .288 batting average, 17 runs scored, 21 hits, nine RBI and three doubles. He was selected first team all-Eastern District.
ERIC BANAL, Buckeye Local: A returner to the All-Times Leader squad, Banal earned second-team all-Ohio honors in Division II as a junior.
''Eric is probably the best outfielder I've ever coached,'' noted Panthers head coach Rick DeLuca. ''He is fluid in tracking down fly balls, he has one of the strongest and most-accurate outfield arms in the valley and, for his size, has amazing power.
''Eric hit over .500 this season to lead the team in hitting.''
In fact, Banal batted .506 with 32 runs, 43 hits, 29 RBI, nine doubles, two triples and two homers. His slugging percentage was .729 and his on-base percentage was .562.
JONATHAN BORKOSKI, Buckeye Local: Borkoski, a senior, earned first-team all-OVAC and all-Eastern District kudos and represented the Panthers in the OVAC All-Star Game as a senior.
''He improved tenfold over his sophomore and juniors years and that's considering that he hit five homers as a junior,'' DeLuca said. ''He led the team in wins, strikeouts and innings pitched and was the guys that always wanted the ball in big games.''
Borkoski was 4-4 with 56 Ks in 45 innings hurled. At the plate, he batted .463 with 38 hits, 29 RBI, 10 doubles and three homers.
DALTON RUTTER, Harrison Central: A repeat All-TL performer, Rutter, a senior, was an offensive force for the Huskies.
He averaged .418 at the plate with 33 hits, 11 RBI, 21 runs, 18 walks and 21 stolen bases.
''He had another big year for us offensively,'' first-year Harrison Central head coach Mike Valesko said. ''He's a typical leadoff hitter and consistently gets on base.''
Rutter was a first-team all-OVAC and all-Eastern District pick and played in the OVAC All-Star Game.
NICK STATEN, Harrison Central: The Huskies' coach behind the plate, Staten, too, was a first-team all-OVAC and all-Eastern District selection who played in the OVAC gleam game.
''Nick was our power hitter in our lineup,'' Valesko said. ''He did a great job of driving in runs for us.''
Staten batted .356 with 21 hits, 20 RBI, 14 runs, nine walks and two homers.
LUCAS LLOYD, Martins Ferry: Lloyd, a junior kunkleballer, was a first-team all-OVAC and all-Eastern District performer for head coach Anthony Reasbeck.
''He has won many big games for us over the past few seasons,'' Reasbeck said.
Lloyd finished with a 7-2 record and a 2.21 ERA.
ROBERT VARGO, Martins Ferry: 'Big Red' finished his senior season with first-team all-OVAC and all-Eastern District honors an an appearance in the OVAC All-Star Game.
From his spot at the hot corner, Vargo, also an all-Ohioan in football and basketball, batted .363 with 26RBI. He also made countless sparkling defensive plays.
''It is absolutely impossible to replace Robert Vargo in any sport,'' Reasbeck said. ''Guys like him don't come around every day.''
MICHAEL JACOB, St. Clairsville: ''Zuke'' has been one of the valley's best pitchers the past two seasons. This past season, he earned first-team all-OVAC and all-Eastern District honors.
''He has tremendous knowledge of the game,'' St. C. head coach Tom Sliva said. ''He has great control of three pitches and, for the second straight year, had an ERA under 1.00.''
Jacob missed a few starts due to injury, but still pitched more than 30 innings. He struck out 43 and allowed five runs, four of them earned, 12 hits and five walks.
LEWIS MITCHELL, St. Clairsville: A senior, Mitchell earned first-team all-OVAC and all-Eastern District accolades and played in the OVAC All-Star Game.
''He led our team in hitting at .338,'' Sliva said. ''Lewis has worked very hard to be the player he is today. He was very solid defensively at second base with very good hands and an above-average arm, thus earning the nickname ''Sweet Lou.''
Mitchell scored 10 runs, had 21 singles, a double and 16 RBI.
MALIK GUMMER, St. Clairsville: An all-around threat, Gummer, a junior, was a second-team all-Eastern District selection.
''I feel Malik is one of the best centerfielders in Ohio Division III,'' Sliva said. ''He can hit, throw and play outstanding defense. Malik's defensive skills are some of the best we have had at St. Clairsville.''
Gummer batted .382 this season with 12 runs, 12 singles, seven doubles, two triples, 14 RBI and 10 stolen bases.
BAILEY MCGRATH, Bridgeport: A repeat All-TL performer, McGrath was an honorable mention all-Ohioan in Division IV and a first-team pick in the OVAC and Eastern District.
''He's a competitor,'' Bridgeport head coach Ted Downing said. ''As a hitter, he always sees to come through when we need him.
McGrath batted .425 with 24 singles, 13 doubles, 17 RBI and 33 runs. He worked 58 innings on the mound, striking out 64 with a 2.76 ERA and 18 walks.
Q.J. WILLIAMS, Bridgeport: Another returnee to the All-TL squad, Williams, a junior was also a first-team all-OVAC and all-Eastern District selection as an outfielder.
''He's just an all-around great player with quick hands,'' Downing noted. ''He's a very good defensive outfielder. He's another one that has a great future at the next level.''
Williams batted a team-leading .478 with a .520 on-base percentage. He laced 38 singles, six doubles, scored 28 runs and drove in 19. He also stole 18 bases.
PARKER DYSON, Bridgeport: Dyson, another junior, earned second-team all-Eastern district honors.
''He's still an untapped resource,'' Downing said. He, in my opinion, still has a lot of potential. Once he reaches that, he'll be a dominant force.
''He's really come on as a hitter. He led us in RBI and pitched very well at times, including that no-hitter.''
Dyson batted .363 with 22 hits, three doubles and four homers. He knocked in 29 runs and scored 19. As a pitcher, he went 5-4 with a 3.20 ERA and fanned 60.
MATT DUNFEE, Union Local: Dunfee, a junior, was a first-team all-Eastern District selection for the Jets.
He batted .323 with a .446 on-base percentage. He scored 11 runs, drove in 19 and belted one homer.
''Matt was our guy,'' noted first-year Jets head coach Pec Schmitt. ''He didn't strike out often and was our leading RBI producer. That is what we expected from him at the beginning of the year and he produced all year for us."
COLTON CAMPBELL, Shadyside: Campbell was a first-team all-OVAC and all-Eastern District selection as a junior.
''He was our starting first baseman and batted fifth,'' Tigers head coach Mike Meintel said. ''His defensive play was just outstanding. He was a leader out there on the field for us and batted.425.
''He was our Most Improved Player and led us in doubles.''
ZACK FRIZZI, Shadyside: Another first-team all-Eastern District pick for the Tigers, Frizzi was also a first-team all-OVAC pick as a junior.
''He did very well at the plate and was one of our main cogs,'' Meintel said.
Frizzi was Shadyside's starting centerfielder and batted four. On the mound, he was 4-2 with a 3.2 ERA.
JACOB KEISER, Barnesville: A sophomore, Keiser makes the team after earned first-team all-OVAC honors.
''He had a great year,'' Shamrocks head coach D.J. Butler said. ''He improved tremendously from his freshman year. Through his hard work, improved his batting average by about .200 points and cut his strikeouts in half."
Keiser averaged .413 at the plate, with 26 hits, 12 runs, 18 RBI, five doubles and two triples.
JONATHAN BOSSELL, St. John: Bossell, a senior infielder, was a key cog in the Irish's run toward the OVAC tournament.
He earned first team all-OVAC accolades and was the recipient of the Charlie Kloss Award, a team honor.
''Jonathan is a great leader on and off the field,'' St. John head coach Shawn Selmon said. ''He was constantly trying to improve his play and knowledge of the game."
A two-year Irish captain, Bossell batted .286 with a .432 on-base percentage. He batted .333 with runners in scoring position.
ERIC DIERKES, River: A first-team all-OVAC honoree at catcher, Dierkes represented the Pilots in the OVAC All-Star game.
''He knows the game very well,'' River head coach Mark Romick said of Dierkes, a senior. Dierkes batted .307 with an on-base percentage of .454. He walked 14 times, scored 16 runs, and threw out 68 percent of the baserunners he attempted to snare.
TANNER BURKHART, Monroe Central: Burkhart has been a key ingredient in the success of Monroe Central's baseball success for the past three years.
A junior, Burkhart was a first-team all-OVAC pick.
''He hits for average and always finds a way to get the job done,'' Seminoles head coach Ryan Rosnick said. ''He played shortstop and pitched this year and did a super job at both when called upon.
Burkhart batted .465, with two homers and 18 RBI. On the mound, he was 3-2 with a 3.68 ERA
JOHN PATRONE, Bellaire: Patrone, in his sixth season, was honored to be part of a special season and a special group of players.
''This team was like family ... players and coaches,'' he said. We had a tight group.''
Thorp can be reached at email@example.com