Columbiana Clippers baseball team suffers a lost season of opportunities

Sports

Clippers Chase Franken losses an opportunity set school baseball records

Columbiana Clippers baseball field

Credit: Lowell Spencer

COLUMBIANA, OHIO (WKBN) – With the cancellation of spring sports in Ohio by the OHSAA this week, the Columbiana Clippers baseball team saw their hopes of possibly winning an Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference title vanish with that announcement.  For a team that would have entered the season with eight seniors, it makes the stoppage an even more bitter pill to swallow.

“Right now, there isn’t a lot of smiling when thinking about baseball,” Clippers coach Ryan Wolf remarked.  “When two o’clock came, and he (Governor DeWine) said that schools were done.  I was done for the day.  I couldn’t talk to anybody, it kind of destroyed me.  Even when you know it was coming, until the words are actually said.”

“I have eight seniors on this team.  Some really put in a lot of time, some great players, and knowing that they never even got a chance, that’s just heartbreaking,” he added.

For the past two years, the Clippers finished second in the EOAC behind the powerhouse Toronto Red Knights.  Last year the Knights went on to win the DIV State Champion.  This was going to be the first year that Toronto was not in the league.  Although Wolf felt that the league as a whole was going to be more competitive.

“Yeah, we really liked our team,” Wolf stated.  “A lot of guys gained experience last year, throughout the year, and we were pretty solid last year.  We were excited.  I think it extended with football, we didn’t win the league, but we had a really good season.  And in basketball, we won the league, and a lot of these kids do both.  It just builds on that, and the excitement was there.”

“They were excited to go out there and prove some stuff.  To see how good we can be.  Eight seniors, great juniors and sophomores, our depth was what I was really excited about,” he explained.

“It was exciting even in the early practices with the guys we had coming up with sophomores Riley McElwain and Zach Pleska, and developing guys who hadn’t played last year but were coming around.  We had a good chance to not just win the league but go undefeated in the league, but the reality that I won’t be able to ever take the field with those guys again is just devastating,” senior Chase Franken said.

“When I got the news that there wasn’t going to be a baseball season, I was pretty heartbroken,” senior first-year player Jakob Cross stated.  “I was more upset than I thought I was going to be.”

On March 13th, the day that the Governor announced the closure of schools, coach Wolf was out on the field conducting a practice.  Little did he know that would be the last he would get to enjoy his Clipper team.

“I’m an optimistic, I thought we would be back.  But I also knew if we are (shut down) it is going to be awhile.  So let’s just try to have some fun,” Wolf said of the practice.  “Our practice was 3:30 to 5:30, and at five, I told them I would stay till seven.  I had a bunch of kids that stayed.  They didn’t want to leave the field.”

For those eight seniors, most will not have a chance to play baseball again in the future.  The one exception is their standout shortstop/pitcher Chase Franken.  Franken, who holds the school record for extra-base hits, most triples, most doubles, and runs scored, will continue his baseball career at YSU next year.  But Franken could have broken a handful of additional Clippers baseball records with even a partial season.

“I’m not going to say that they don’t,” Franken said of his disappointment at not being able to break the records for most hits, on-base average, walks, wins as a pitcher, and strikeouts as a pitcher  “I think it was close to ten I could have broken throughout the year.  Yes, it does matter to me, but at the end of the day, if those were not to be broken and I just got to play baseball, I still got to play baseball.  Just being able to play one game would be more enjoyable than any records being broken.”

“He was very excited for this year,” Wolf remarked.  “The pressure was off, he knew where he was going to college, and he just wanted to get out there and play, have fun and kind of lead us.  It’s heartbreaking that he didn’t get that opportunity.”

Wolf also praised seniors Ryan Fahs who is his lead-off hitter and beat Toronto last year on the mound, along with three-year starter Hunter Zentner and power-hitting first baseman Matt Mazei.

Wolf also had four seniors that came out after not playing recently, “Two haven’t played for Columbiana, but had played in the past.  Jakob Cross was going to come out to pitch, Quenton Cross and Carter Pasco had played previously but they did not play the past couple of years.  They were back and Hunter Mackall is a transfer from Crestview.  He came as a sophomore, but decided this year he wanted to get back out there and play.”

“I told coach Wolf, I know I might not be the best baseball player, or the most talented, but I’m going to do everything I can to help the team.  I sat around during basketball season and I was regretting not playing basketball, which wasn’t so much about not playing, it was more about not being able to celebrate with all my friends,” Jakob Cross cited his reason for coming out for the Clippers team this year.

“It sucks for guys like that because you take so long off and you come back so excited and then to have it ripped away from you like that, it hurts them just as much as it hurts me,” Franken admitted.

“For those guys that haven’t played, they were really looking forward to it.  They put a lot of effort in since January, or guys like Quenton and Carter they had a week and a half after basketball.  They all talked about how being out there was just so much fun,” Wolf concluded.

Wolf also expressed some concern that if the younger players can’t play later in the summer, all the high school baseball teams could lose some continuity, and more importantly, a loss in interest.  A lot of teams in the EOAC do not field junior varsity squads, so a loss of a whole year and recreation leagues in the summer could affect the number of baseball players down the road.  Although he also pointed out, maybe it will have the opposite effect and renew the interest in baseball after a long hiatus.

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