In a matter of innings and with just a few poorly located pitches and errant swings the curtain closed.
Two weekends ago marked the final high school contests for many extraordinary county stars — and they will not be forgotten, and possibly not even replaced.
This year of baseball in Hillsdale County was full of surprises, good and bad, and while no team survived past the first game of regionals there was plenty of excitement.
The Jonesville Comets revived their program under Dale Steward; Reading’s Rick Bailey took his lumps early and taught his team how to win down the stretch en route to another district championship; Camden-Frontier rose from the ashes to win an SCAA East Division crown and nearly knocked the Rangers out of the postseason; Pittsford showed life and exceptional character under the leadership of Chris Hodos, Quincy continued to be one of the most consistent programs in all the area, and Hillsdale was Hillsdale — breathtaking at times and hard to figure out at others.
What I will remember most though is not the games or the scores or the stats — hands down it’s all about the seniors who we will never have a chance to appreciate again.
For starters, Scott Lantis and Mitchell Gabriele are Hillsdale Hornets no longer. It sounds weird, it is weird and losing them is kind of like taking the explosions and guns out of action movies.
Some area residents might be tired of hearing their names and seeing their faces plastered all over the sports section, but they have earned every bit of attention they have received.
There is good reason Gabriele will be playing football and basketball at Adrian and Lantis will be suiting up as a Hillsdale College Charger.
Lantis was his usual self pitching this year, going 9-1, but if was his defense as a shortstop and leadership that trump everything else.
Gabriele’s desire to ruthlessly dominate made him the best defensive catcher in the area once again and during the postseason he was locked and loaded at the plate, as if to say the only fitting end to his career would be another state championship.
Teammate Dillon Dirth benefited from Gabriele’s great game-calling abilities, tying a school record with nine pitching victories.
He only played for Chris Adams for two years after transferring, but his progress was a treat to watch and he was easily one of the most pin-point accurate pitchers in the county.
While he could blow through opposing lineups, teammate Tyler Vandeberghe could sprint around the basepaths and his feistiness and athleticism reminded me of a young Ricky Henderson. Not bad for a middle of the order guy.
Keeping the senior theme going, the Big Eight had a darn good local trio of its own.
Jonesville’s Ben Stemen kept his temper in tact in ’09 and drove in a school-record 52 RBIs on his way to being named league MVP.
Quincy senior Brandon Stempien went 8-2 on the hill, with a no-hitter tossed in and hit .438 with 36 RBIs to boot.
Probably my favorite of all the Big Eight stars who are now graduates is a Reading Ranger though.
Ryan “Bulldog” Dillon was in essence the perfect point guard in every sport he played. He connected with Rick Bailey to the point that he was basically another coach and motivator for his teammates.
He may not have been blessed with the same raw skills as some kids around here, but he was blessed with a true understanding of how to come through in the clutch, how to treat people and how to make high school athletic fans proud.
I truly hope someone fills the cleats of these seniors because they were phenomenal to cover, and there a few juniors well on their way.
Kurtis Tyler and Jake Jividen of C-F are example 1A. Tyler throws fireballs from the mound like he’s Super Mario and Jividen has a nice mix of power and patience at the plate.
In Jonesville, John Sigler hit an astonishing .481 this season and also proved he’s more than just a knuckleballer in going 9-1.
Eric Stetler of Quincy hit .340 and won seven games as the No. 2 pitcher and Pittsford junior Seth Weber is a bit unassuming at times, but he’s a grinder on the hill and has better pop at the plate than you would expect from a guy his size.
As long as I live I’ll be interested in the paths some of these youngsters take, but based on the determination and results I saw from them on the diamond I’m sure there are plenty more proud moments on the way.