Heartland Christian baseball program is building a winner through faith and commitment.

Sports

The Lions have made great strides in the past three years under coach Chris Gault

Heartland Christian handled Southern 17-3 in the Division IV District Semifinal Tuesday evening at Cene Park.

COLUMBIANA, Ohio (WKBN) – Lions are defined as being strong and bold, and not afraid of other animals.  The Heartland Christian Lions baseball team is living up to their name.

Heartland Christian was founded in 1996 and purchased the former Columbiana High school in 2000.  However, the Lions baseball program is just 11 years old in the OHSAA as it began in 2011 with no field, no equipment, and barely any experienced players.

“We played public schools, but we were not part of the Ohio High School at that time,” Lions Athletic Director Susanne Shields said about fielding baseball from 2005-2007.  “It was almost like we did a club team but we were Heartland.  We had a team for about three years, but we didn’t have the schedule we have now.  We knew we wanted to develop a baseball program so that was kind of a preview prior to going into the OHSAA.”

“We began the program in 2011, myself and Steve Montgomery,” said Shaun Sommers Lion’s first head coach in 2011.  “Susie was instrumental in getting us going.  We had to locate a field, locate equipment, raise money, find a practice facility, all those things to get the program started.  We worked out an arraignment with Columbiana on Metz Road.  It was amazing how it all came together.”

“I even remember telling them one time, ‘Guys, some of you are seniors, you’re not going to see this come to fruition but you’re going to lay the groundwork for other kids to have an opportunity here at Heartland to play,’ ” Sommers told that first team that only included one player who had played baseball.

The Lions have endured a bit of a resurgence following a suspension of the baseball program in 2016 and 2017.  Low enrollment numbers in the school and on the team forced them to halt the program, but not close it.

The addition of Chris Gault, a former standout athlete at McDonald, has rejuvenated the program as they captured their first Sectional Title last week, ironically knocking off McDonald 6-1 at their home park Next Level Sports Complex.  Tuesday night they blasted Southern Local 17-3 to advance to the District Final.

Playing for a District Title is not only a first for the baseball team but a first in the school’s athletic programs.  They have enjoyed success in volleyball playing in numerous semi-finals, and they have had individual athletes advance to Regionals and State but not for any team sports.

“Prior to being a member of OHSAA we were members of the ACSI, Association of Christian Schools, and we had won the state basketball tournament for ACSI.  But as members of the OHSAA we have not won a District for basketball, baseball, or soccer,” Shields said.

Gault has a 29-27 overall record in his three seasons with the Lions.  The Lions have shown incredible improvement since 2018 when they went 3-12, 8-11 last year, and currently hold an 18-4 mark this year.

Leading the way for the Lions this season are a pair of seniors in pitcher/infielder Caleb Graft and catcher Aaron Gault who are both batting above .400 along with 18 RBI’s a piece.  Leading the team in RBI’s is another senior in shortstop Tom Kling with 22.

The Lion’s top two pitchers are Graft and senior Hayden Stewart.  Both right-handers have won six games on the season, while Graft has surrendered less than a run per inning in his ten appearances.

“I think the difference at Heartland is that we are truly a family,” Shield stated.  “We are committed, and these kids have been committed from their freshman to their senior year.  They want to play for each other and win for each other, and that is big.  I’m more excited about the journey that God has these kids on.”

“From the very beginning for us, it was a privilege to be able to use the game of baseball to mold young men like many of the coaches from around the area,” Sommers added.  “But we have a Kingdom purpose and it’s not just about building baseball players and having success on the field.  The success we have had in the program is equally satisfying as the reward we received from the kind of kids we coached.  When you’re a Christian school your standards are higher.  So we compete with excellence in all that we do.”

The Lions will take on another tough team when they play the Warren JFK Eagles (17-8) on Thursday night at Cene Park.  The Eagles enter the game having knocked off Lisbon Tuesday night 14-1 as they make their second consecutive District Final (2019).  The first pitch is scheduled for 6 PM.

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