When Maynard leftfielder Cory Kotopka safely squeezed the final out of the Steele and Cook Insurance Ohio Valley Baseball League's championship series last Tuesday, Maynard had defended its championship.
However, by no means did it come easy.
The back-to-back titlists had their backs to the wall, literally, in the first round of the playoffs. The fourth seeds dropped the opener of their best-of-3 series with fifth-seeded Jefferson County at home, but rallied back to take the next game in Toronto, which set up the deciding contest in Maynard.
That game turned out to be one for the ages as Maynard outlasted the Reds, 4-2, in a 14-inning marathon.
"That game was really the turning point for us," veteran Maynard manager Laney Simone Sr. recalled. "We don't win that game, we're not in the semifinals, let along the finals."
Jefferson County scored an unearned run in the first off wily veteran Mark Cisar. However, the 39-year-old hurled a dozen straight scoreless innings before surrendering another unearned tally in the 14th.
All the while, Jefferson County pitchers Nate Stewart and Tyler Owens were stifling the usually potent Maynard bats for 13 innings.
That was until Owens walked D.J. Busby and Cisar to start the bottom of the 14th. B.A. Holloway blasted a drive to deep left-center that easily cleared County Road 10 and sent Maynard to the next round.
There it met the top-seeded and regular-season champion Wheeling Cardinals. And, for the second consecutive season, Maynard earned a sweep in the best-of-3 to reach the finals.
The opposition would be third-seeded Weirton, which had split with Maynard during the regular season.
By virtue of 8-3 and 15-1 victories, Maynard built a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-5, but the Red Dons won Game 3, 2-0, before Maynard prevailed, 3-2, in Game 4.
"This was one heck of a ride," Simone said of the rollercoaster of a season his team enjoyed. "It feels really good. This team has the heart and desire you need to be champions."
The championship was the second for players D.J. Busby, Cisar, Holloway, Max Schimmel, Ryan Jarvie, Kotopka, Logan Hudson and Michael Androsko. It was the first for newcomers Cody Hudson, Greyson Loweecy, Cody Gillespie and Dane Koch.
With the regular season and playoffs completed, it's time for my annual awards.
FAN OF THE YEAR: It can't be anyone else but Jack Miller. The New Martinsville native is a baseball junkie to say the least. You'll find him at diamonds all over the OVBL landscape, from Lafferty to Weirton to Hannibal.
Not only an astute observer of the game, he tends to add coaching tips to whatever teams happen to be playing.
Also considered were my parents - Janet and Henry Jones - who were in town on vacation last week from Troy, Oh., and ended up watching Games 3 and 4 of the championship series.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR: This was a really tough decision because of the many worthy candidates.
After carefully weighing my opinions on each candidate I selected Simone Sr. There's only one manager with a 2014 OVBL championship trophy, and it's him.
Sure, you can say he had a pretty decent cast of players, but how do you think those players got to Maynard. They didn't find out about the team in the yellow pages!
Not only a great baseball mind, but a good recruiter, as well.
Others that received consideration included Ricky Szeligo of the Wheeling Cardinals; Spencer Sninchak of Jefferson County; Rudy Nagy of Weirton; Lafferty's Jordan Barbina; and Aric Robbins of Marshall County.
PITCHER OF THE YEAR: There's no doubt about this one ... hands down it's Cisar.
The former Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates' farmhand is in total command when he's in the middle of the diamond. He is also one of the smartest, if not the smartest, player in the league.
His 14-inning performance in the playoffs against Jefferson County has to rank as one of the best in OVBL history. He threw an arm-wrenching 169 pitches in the 3-hour contest, with 122 of them being strikes.
Also receiving consideration were Maynard's Logan Hudson; Weirton's Logan Linder; Brendon Gilles of the Wheeling Cardinals; and Matt Masarick of Lafferty.
MVP: Ditto the above concerning Cisar.
Not only does the 1994 Magnolia High School grad do it on the mound, but he does it at the plate and field, as well.
However, it may be his presence in the dugout that is the most important factor. His knowledge of the game and how it should be played rubs off on his teammates, and he's not afraid to offer a helping comment.
Others considered were Nagy and Holloway.
Some finishing thoughts:
I was glad to see the league expand to a dozen teams this summer, but I also think it watered-down the talent pool some.
I've heard rumors that first-year entrants Belmont County and Hannibal are not returning after finishing 7-13 and 2-19, respectively, as well as runnerup Weirton. I've also been told that the Wheeling Yankees, who forfeited out of the league this season, won't be back.
But, on a bright note, it was brought up last week that the return of Neffs is a good possibility.
I would also propose that Jefferson County and Weirton look into a possible merger. There is enough talent on those two squads to form a really good team. It would also give them two diamonds to use if one isn't available.
Players from the Cubs and Pirates should seek employment on other teams. Shadyside could always use a couple of players, as could some other teams in the league.
The big question for next season is ... can Maynard three-peat?