The task this week for the Chaminade Julienne baseball team: Prepare physically and mentally to play in the state tournament.
The best part of the week?
“It is just a great feeling to still be able to practice,” Eagles coach Todd Barhorst said. “There’s hundreds and hundreds of teams in the state and to be one of only 16 that have the pleasure of practicing right now, instead of being at summer ball, that’s a privilege that we earned. Every day that we come out to practice we’re just having fun and just thrilled to be around each other.”
The seventh-ranked Eagles (27-5) make their fourth state appearance since 2017 when they face unranked Chagrin Falls Kenston (19-11) in the Division II semifinals at 10 a.m. Friday at Canal Park in Akron. The state final is Saturday at 4 p.m.
Kenston was a semifinalist for the first time last year, but CJ has the much more accomplished pedigree. After finishing second in 2017, the Eagles won it all in 2018 and 2019 led by pitching and defense.
This year’s team, Barhorst said, has been a better offensive team that the state title teams, but it’s been different in the tournament, especially in a 1-0 win over Cincinnati Indian Hill in the district final and a 2-1 win over Hamilton Badin in the regional final. Junior Jackson Frasure will start the semifinal, and sophomore Charlie Hoagland would start the final as long as the Eagles don’t need him in the semifinal.
“During this tournament run our pitching and defense has stepped up to that same level,” Barhorst said. “And that’s been great.”
Otherwise, the Eagles are the same kind of team Barhorst and his staff try to develop each year.
“We look for energy one through 19, guys even when you’re not in the game, you’re in the dugout, ready for your turn, rooting your guys on,” Barhorst said. “And just playing smart ball and doing the little things. When there’s runners on base, we know what we’re doing with the ball. We know all of our plays, bunt coverages, pickoff plays, we’re running them all correctly. Reliable guys doing the little things and trying to prevent runs has got to be the number one ticket to advancing in the playoffs.”
Some of the Eagles, especially seniors J.P. Peltier and Christian Gongora, saw what made those state teams special. They were in the stands watching their brothers, and so was sophomore Colin Kadel. Assistant coach Garrett Wissman played on the 2018 team.
“They’ve seen it and they’ve gotten to learn from that,” Barhorst said. “Knowing that the program has been there, whether they were on the field or not, gives them a sense of we belong. And I don’t think the moment’s going to be too big for them.”
Peltier, who will play at Wright State, plays shortstop and is the team’s best hitter (.418 batting average) and top run producer (31 RBIs). He remembers well watching his brother Ryan play and win a state title as a senior in 2018 and what it meant to him and everyone associated with the team.
“They joy it brought to a team and the community, and just how much it’s stuck with them throughout the years,” he said. “I remember after that 2018 game, where all the fans are celebrating outside Huntington Park (in Columbus), we were taking a picture and I vividly remember my brother saying, ‘Now you gotta get you one.’ And that’s been with me all of high school through the years and playoffs and kind of what’s been driving me to win.”
Peltier missed his freshman season when it was canceled because of the COVID pandemic. The goal since has been to find a way back to state. In November, the words “Road to Canal Park” were written on a white board.
“We always believed, but when it happened it was just a little bit surreal,” he said. “It kind of hits you in moments like, ‘We’re going. We’re actually going to state.’ It would mean the world to get one. It’s kind of like a competition with my older brother. I’m always chasing him trying to accomplish the kinds of things he accomplished, and this is the real big one that I really want.”
Ryan Peltier just finished his career as a third baseman at Ball State. Last year he won the program’s first Gold Glove award. This year he had career highs in batting average (.338), home runs (15) and RBIs (54) as a graduate student in his fifth season, the extra season he got to play because of COVID.
The younger brother, however, didn’t get an extra season to add to his high school numbers. But he has a chance this weekend to do at least one thing better than his brother. They are tied in career hits.
“It’s been a tough chasing my brother in career stats,” Peltier said. “I’ve been tied the last two games and just need that one more hit to pass him up.”
The Eagles probably need Peltier to do that to have a chance. Nonetheless, Peltier said the team is ready to keep winning in whatever way necessary.
“We believe in ourselves,” he said. “Our our motto all year’s been ‘Why not us?’ Here we are. Why not us? Let’s go get it.”