Springboro coach embraces historic final four run: “It’s been awesome”

Springboro High School baseball coach Mark Pelfrey has helped groom the best of the Panthers. There have been All-Ohioans, league champions, scholarship players and high hopes.

That’s what makes the current state final four-bound Panthers extra special.

“I’ve been coaching there 26 years and we’ve had some pretty good teams,” reflected Pelfrey. “To be able to finally get over that hump and get to the regional and win has been very special for me. As for our kids and school and community, it’s been awesome seeing all the support from the community. The kids are extremely excited about the opportunity.”

Springboro will join Chaminade Julienne, Coldwater and Minster in a rare area four-division showing in the state final fours at Akron’s Canal Park Friday through Sunday.

On Friday, Springboro (26-6) is up first against Mentor (21-5) in a Division I state semifinal at 10 a.m. in D-IV, Minster (22-7) goes against Jeromesville Hillsdale (22-2) at 4 p.m.

On Saturday, it’s defending D-II state champ CJ (25-2) vs. Van Wert (27-2) at 1 p.m. Coldwater (25-6) is paired against Cincinnati St. Bernard Roger Bacon (18-10) in D-III at 4 p.m.

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Those four winners – and the other semifinal winners – advance to Sunday’s state championships.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association extended the baseball season one week this season. That also coincides with a move from Huntington Park in Columbus, where the baseball state final fours had been held since 2009, to Akron.

A conflict with the Columbus Clippers, the Cleveland Indians’ Triple-A minor-league affiliate, necessitated the move. Canal Park is home to the Indians’ Double-A affiliate Akron RubberDucks.

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Baseball is the final high school spring sport that will crown state champions. Track and field, softball, lacrosse and boys volleyball all held state finals last weekend. Boys tennis concluded the weekend before.

Springboro has benefitted from enough breaks to mount a nine-game win streak. That includes a sweep of Cincinnati Elder (4-3) and Turpin (10-3) in the D-I regional at the University of Cincinnati’s Marge Schott Stadium. That mounted the Panthers’ history-making postseason. It was the first time Springboro had played in a D-I regional and the first time to make a final four appearance. No area team has done that since Miamisburg in 2006.

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Springboro packs an offensive punch, led by designated hitter Adam Berry (.431 batting average), Jake D’Amico (.426) and Logan Zier (.402). D’Amico, a senior catcher and third baseman, leads the Panthers in hits (46), runs (39), and stolen bases (14).

Junior pitcher Austin Fawley (12-0, 1.17 ERA) has been unbeatable and is 15-0 over the last two seasons.

“Our team chemistry is really outstanding,” Pelfrey said. “The kids support each other. We’ve had such huge contributions from so many players. We’ve had some injuries and other kids have stepped up and rolled with it and done an outstanding job. Those are the things that set this team apart.”

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The Springboro Boosters have contributed $2,500 for busing and lodging by the Panthers.

• It’s the third consecutive D-II state final four for CJ and coach Mike Barhorst, who prior to the postseason announced he’ll retire as the Eagles’ coach. CJ lost 4-0 to Tallmadge in the 2017 state championship and knocked Tallmadge out 2-1 in last year’s state semifinals.

CJ defeated top-ranked Wapakoneta 3-1 to win the state title last season. As Chaminade, the Eagles also won a Class AA (big school) state title in 1970.

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The winning pitcher in that title game was current senior Nick Wissman (10-0, 0.93 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 60 innings). Also figuring prominently on the Eagles’ staff is junior Sebastian Gongora (8-0, 1.17) and junior Elliot Seelig (4-0, 1.04).

CJ lost only to Troy and Badin by identical 5-4 margins. The Eagles bring a 21-game win streak into the final four.

• Coldwater and Minster give the powerful Midwest Athletic Conference two proven title shots. Coldwater has won six baseball state championships, most recently in 2014. That goes with three state runner-ups for the Cavaliers. Coldwater also advanced to the D-III state final four last season.

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Minster has won three state titles, in 2017 and 2011-12 under veteran coach Mike Wiss. Also the Wildcats’ girls basketball coach, he guided Minster to a D-IV basketball state title in March.

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