All but three members of Graham High School’s 1973 state championship baseball team reunited Friday — a testament to a bond built 50 years ago on the same day, June 2.
“One thing that I’ll never forget,” said Tim West, who organized the reunion, “is in chemistry class in mid-February of ‘73, Gary Kite, our ace pitcher, came up to me said, ‘Hey, Tim said we’re going to win the state.’ I’m thinking, ‘OK, that’s great.’ Four months later, we were state champions.”
New state champions will be crowned this week. Three local team remains alive. Russia (25-6) plays No. 4 St. Henry (24-6) at 4 p.m. Thursday in Division IV. Chaminade Julienne (27-5) will play Chagrin Falls Kenston in a Division II state semifinal at 10 a.m. Friday at Akron University’s Canal Park.
Graham won the Class AA state championship in 1973 by beating Columbus Bishop Waterson in the semifinals 8-4 and Beloit West Branch 5-1 in the final.
The team held a 40th anniversary celebration in 2013 and reunited again in 2018. West doesn’t know if they’ll hold any more, but the party at Lakeland Golf Course in St. Paris brought almost the entire team together to remember the events of 1973.
West was a junior left-hander on the 1973 team and started the final game. He threw a two-hitter, allowing a double and an infield single, and finished the season with an 8-1 record.
“When Tim is pitching, he’s as relaxed out there as Gary (Kite),” coach Donzil Hall said in 1973. “Tim has a good changeup, curveball and fastball, and he kept them off stride all day long, just like he did in the regionals.”
Graham returned to the final game in 1995 and lost 4-0 to Wauseon in the championship game. St. Paris High School also won the Class B state championship in 1930 with a 12-6 victory against Perrysburg.
West experienced the state tournament again as a softball coach in Urbana in 2006. His team, led by his daughter Tara, the ace pitcher, lost 2-1 to Circleville in the Division II semifinals.
Kite and Rick Campbell each had two hits each in the 1973 final. Tom Moore, Mark Kirk and West all had one hit.
Campell and Kite scored the first two runs in the first, reaching on a walk and a single and scoring on a throwing error by the pitcher on a pickoff attempt.
In third, Kite tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Moore as Graham extended its lead to 3-0. In the fifth, after West Branch had cut the deficit to 3-1, Campbell and Moore singled and scored on an error and two wild pitches.
“That’s about as big a win as you can get,” Hall said in 1973. “Winning the state championship is the ultimate for any coach or athlete.”
Graham advanced to the final by rallying from a 4-2 deficit in the final inning in the semifinals. It scored six runs in the top of the seventh against Watterson. Hall nicknamed the team “the Comeback Kids” after that victory. Graham also scored game-winning runs in the last inning in their two district tournament victories.
“When they got down behind, they just bowed their neck and came back,” Hall said in 1973.
Graham’s season didn’t end with the state championship game in 1973. It beat Tecumseh 10-0 the following week behind a one-hitter by Kite to win a share of the Mad River Valley League crown. It finished the season 19-3.
Hall was in his 12th season in 1973. He spent 33 years at the school as a coach, athletic director and teacher. The high school baseball field was named after him in 1993. He was inducted into the Marshall University Hall of Fame that same year and into the Miami Valley Baseball Coaches Association a year later. Hall is now 91 and attended the reunion.
Hall knew how to get the team to manufacture runs, West said. It was a group of long-ball hitters.
“He always stressed the little things to us,” West said, “and we just executed as a team. There was always somebody else stepping up. There wasn’t just a player or two. We won four ballgames games out of eight in that tournament in the seventh inning, and basically we did it with a small ball. We did it with bunting, hits at the right time and stole some bases, and everything just kind of kind of worked out for us. Coach Hall stressed discipline with us.”