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2024 OHSAA Final Four Wrap-up: A Perfect Finish To 2024 Season

Bruce Hefflinger
Ohio Senior Writer

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2024 OHSAA Final Four Wrap-up: A Perfect Finish To 2024 Season

AKRON - The high school state baseball tournament as we know it is now over. The 96th addition was completed on Sunday with Mason, West Branch, Heath and Berlin Hiland bringing home state championships.

Come 2025, three more teams will be able to call themselves Ohio State Champions. That will happen with the expansion to seven divisions adopted by the OHSAA.

A quick history lesson: The first tourney was in 1928 with Columbus Aquinas claiming the Class A title and Centerville winning Class B. In 1957 Class A and AA was adopted, though there were still just two divisions. The format stayed that way until 1971 when Class AAA was added. That year Russia won the Class A championship with Ron Schulze producing five hits, scoring five runs and driving in five in a 13-5 win over Old Fort in the finals while Columbus Wehrle and Findlay captured their only state titles in Class AA and AAA, respectively.

In 1991 a four division system began with Fairfield winning Division I, Watterson D-II, Badin D-III and Parkway D-IV.

The 2024 tournament is the last with four divisions, with the expansion to seven divisions the future in the sport.

Before looking back to touch on the 2024 tourney, let's look ahead to what is on tap for 2025.

Schools will find out soon where they stand in that regard, but plans are in the works for how it will all play out.

What is known, according to the OHSAA, is that Akron will remain home to the state tournament. State finals will be played over two days at Canal Park on a Saturday and Sunday in June, apparently with four games on one day and three the other.

The 14 state semifinal games will also be held in the Akron area on Thursday and Friday, though all of that is still being determined. Canal Park and Thurman Munson Stadium will be two of the sites used with two other facilites in the area being used. Reportedly, divisions playing semifinal games at Canal Park will be rotated each year.

The new format will not change the need for pitching depth, and in most cases the staff aces will not be available in th state finals, since most teams will continue to use their top pitcher in the semifinals with wins never a given no matter the opponent. But what will change is that there will not be an enrollment discrepency in Division I. This year's finals was a perfect example. Twinsburg, with 480 boys in the top four grades, faced Mason, which has the biggest enrollment in the state with 1,300 boys. Come next year these two will likely be in different divisions with Twinsburg dropping to D-II. 

From this perspective, more games with a more even playing field and more teams being able to be crowned a state champion is a plus. But for those of us that enjoy watching every semifinal game at one venue leading up to the finals, those days have ended with the completion of the 2024 tournament.

Speaking of the 2024 tournament, as already stated in this story, nothing is a given no matter how "good" a team is in baseball. 

Take Division II for example. Talent was on the side of Badin but it meant nothing to West Branch, which stunned the Rams with a three-run seventh for a 3-2 win.

And then there is Division IV. Other than those wearing the purple uniforms and their fans, who would have thought Fort Recovery would have been playing at state? Or in the finals? Even more "shocking" leading Berlin Hiland 2-0 in the fourth inning of the state championship game? Or ahead 2-1 in the sixth. After all, this is a team that was never more than one game over .500 at any point in the season until the regionals. It's a team that scored one or fewer runs in a game eight times.

But good coaching and players that believe can always be a formula for success, especially in baseball. South Range in 2018 is the only team in Ohio in any division to win a state title with 12 or more losses since 2005. Fort Recovery nearly became the second if not for a two-run rally by Hiland in thetop of the sixth for a 3-2 victory.

It is just another reason the game of baseball is so great. 

Some things in baseball stay the same.

Take the semifinals leading up to Sunday's title tilts. Low-scoring close games have become the norm on the opening two days of the tournament. Four shutouts in eight games tied the most ever at state, established previously in 2019 and 2009. The 34 combined runs was one more than a year ago, the lowest scoring semifinals ever since four divisions were formed. Four runs seems to be the magic number, with only one team over the past four years scoring that many runs and losing in a state semifinal game.

When it comes to the semis, you know they were exciting when the D-IV matchup between Berlin Hiland and Russia is not the obvious best game. Scoreless entering the bottom of the seventh, Russia pither Braylon Cordonnier had a perfect game going. But that not only ended with a walk, but two hits followed ending the no-hit bid while sending Hiland to the state finals.

Mason's 1-0 win over Perrysburg on a two-out run in the top of the seventh was another game that could arguably be called the best of the semis, but the Heath 4-3 eight-inning victory over two-time defending D-III champion Waynedale is hard to top. Two Heath runs in the bottom of the fifth tied the game at 5-5 and numerous threats followed before the Bulldogs won it in the last of the eighth on a one-out base hit by eight-hole hitter Connor Toomey.

Defense is another area of the game that stood out in this tournament. In Friday's semifinal games, the four winning teams did not commit an error. On Saturday, each of the four teams that prevailed had only one error, with none of those leading to a run.

While there were a few more miscues on Sunday in the finals, something that happens when teams are not pitching their ace and more balls are put in play, there were also some unbelievable plays. There are way too many to mention, so let's go with arguably the best outfield catch of the tourney. Berlin Hiland left fielder Connor Beachy raced to deep left-center field to make a diving grab of a ball hit by Fort Recovery's Reece Wendel to make a catch near the warning path. It was a Sportscenter highlight catch. Ironically, that came an inning after Wendel's sliding snag in left field of a Beachy shot with two on and two out in the second. 

Free passes was another telling point in games. Out of the eight semifinal contests, only once did the team whose pitcher(s) walked or hit a batter the most in the game come out on top on the scoreboard. In the finals the teams with pitchers having the fewest amount of walks and hit batters won three of the four games.

A tip of the cap to the many great crowds at the tournament, topped off by the Twinsburg community. Student sections were phenomenal again this year, with groups of boys with shirts off/classmates names and numbers painted on their chests and back. Entertaining chants from the students always makes high school sports what it is. That said, we could do without the grown adults taunting and yelling at 16-18 years olds, but we will just leave it at that. Also we want give kudos to the umpiring all weekend. From game one to game 12, we saw consistency behind the plate and solid calls in the field, with only a couple controversial calls throughout the weekend. … Looking ahead to next season, the preseason rankings are nine months away. If you are a fan of rankings, check out what had this season. The preseason rankings had eventual state champions Mason ranked 2nd, West Branch ranked 25th, Heath ranked 5th, and Hiland ranked 1st. … Next year’s state tournament is still TBD, but we know we will be there for however the format becomes. See you all in 2025 at Canal Park.

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