COLUMBUS, Ohio - After receiving their championship medals, and posing for pictures with the Division I state championship trophy, Moeller’s baseball team huddled in a dimly-lit corridor underneath the Huntington Park stands.
There the Crusaders heeded remarks about choosing championship rings and T-shirts but also about their place in the annals of Moeller sports history in light of their 9-6 victory against Westlake in Saturday’s title game.
“You’re now part of a very select group of Moeller athletes,” they were told.
The program’s sixth championship season followed a familiar trajectory as others whereas the Crusaders experienced some early setbacks before hitting their stride late. Moeller ended the season with eight consecutive victories and finished 26-5 overall.
Head coach Tim Held pointed to a spring trip to Georgia as this team’s turning point.
“We knew the talent was there, but team chemistry is so tough,” he said. “They just jelled on that trip, getting away, and have just absolutely taken off.”
The Crusaders owned a 10-4 record after losing to Pope High School, of Marietta, Ga., on April 12. And if people were thinking then that Moeller might be vulnerable, or less of a threat than usual, it only served to motivate the players thereafter.
“We came a long way,” said senior pitcher John Tanner, who started Saturday’s game. “Any time you can prove people wrong, it’s just awesome.”
Moeller defeated La Salle, Elder and St. Xavier in succession late in the regular season to claim the Greater Catholic League South crown, and outscored its last eight opponents 60-20.
Senior right-hander Brian Burkhart tossed a no-hitter in the team’s regional semifinal victory against Anderson. The Crusaders then advanced to the state semifinal with a victory against Elder in the regional final, and defeated top-ranked Grove City to reach Saturday’s championship game.
“Every year we always think we have a chance,” senior second baseman Ty Amann said. “With all the returning starters from last year, we thought we had a really good chance to take it this year.”
Moeller entered Saturday’s game against Westlake with a perfect 5-0 mark all-time in the state finals. The Crusaders previously won baseball state titles in 2009, 2004, 1993, 1989 and 1972.
“We told them we expect to win,” Held said. “We didn’t come this far to lose.”
The Crusaders, who won The Enquirer Division I area baseball coaches’ poll, provided plenty of run support early, jumping out to an 8-1 lead before Westlake batted for the third time.
“We slowed down a little bit there toward the end, but to jump out early in any game, especially a state championship, it’s a key,” Tanner said.
University of Evansville signee Phillip Diehl took over for Tanner in the fourth. Bellarmine University-bound John Hakemoller pitched the seventh. Together, they allowed three earned runs over the final 32/3 innings.
Of the 15 seniors on Moeller’s roster, Held said 10 will continue their baseball careers in college.
As a group, they made their mark.
“Good baseball players are attracted to Moeller,” Held said. “We just feel fortunate that we can put ourselves in this situation. These kids expect it. When we start next school year, I know the question is not going to be, how are you going to be coach but can you win state? That’s just the expectation at Moeller; Not just in baseball. In every single sport.”