By DAVE HANNEMAN
NORTH BALTIMORE — Tiger Town is roaring these days. In stereo to boot.
“We feed off them. They feed off us,” said North Baltimore baseball coach Marty Gazarek. “I think that little bit of competition makes both teams better. It’s like, if they can do it, we can too.”
North Baltimore is enjoying a bit of a sports boon this spring with the baseball and softball teams both winning Division IV district championships. A number of North Baltimore student/athletes have also qualified for regional competition in track, making it a busy — and at times noisy — time in the small town just across the Hancock County line.
“We had the fire trucks out three nights in a row,” North Baltimore softball coach Frank Hernandez said of the town’s turnout after the high school won a district softball championship last Thursday, a district baseball championship last Friday, and had four athletes turn in regional-qualifying track efforts on Saturday.
“That’s one of the perks of being from a small community. You hear the horns honking, you know something good is happening and everybody scurries up town to see what’s going on on Main Street.
“There’s a lot going on for the little burg of North Baltimore, Ohio to be proud of. Everything is positive for the kids and the school, and it’s nice making the paper on a good note instead of something bad happening.
“People are celebrating what these kids have done, and I think that’s awesome for this community.”
Hernandez was an assistant coach when North Baltimore reached the finals of the Division IV regional softball tournament in 2006. He’s been the Tigers’ head coach since 2009, a stretch that includes a return to the regional tournament in 2011.
Gazarek’s connections to the school and community go deep as well. He was a pitcher/shortstop/outfielder on North Baltimore teams that, under the guidance of head coach Jon Ammons, reached the regional finals in both 1990 and 1991 and played some of the most memorable game’s school history.
In 1990, North Baltimore’s regional semifinal game with Ayersville was postponed by rain on Friday. When the two teams came back on Monday, North Baltimore trailed 6-3, had two outs with nobody on base and was down to its final strike. The Tigers exploded for 12 runs in the top of the seventh inning, though, and won the game 15-7.
Because of the rain delay, the Tigers had to turn right around and play a second game that day, and lost 8-1 to Northwood.
A year later, North Baltimore was 26-0 and ranked No. 2 in the Division IV state poll. Again the Tigers crushed Ayersville in the regional semifinals, this time by a 13-0 score, but suffered their only loss of the season when Parkway edged them 9-7 in the final.
“We were really loaded that year,” Gazarek said.
“Chris Boggs went to play at BG (Bowling Green State University). I played at Indiana. Jeff Long played for Heidelberg. Matt Wymer, I think played for Findlay. There’s a whole list of guys …. wow, that team was loaded.”
There have been changes in the game since Gazarek wore a North Baltimore uniform as a player, not a coach.
“When we played, there seemed to be a lot more high-scoring games,” he said. “They’ve really cut back on the bats because of what I call the trampoline effect. They were worried about how fast the ball was coming off the bat.
“Now it seems you have to play more small-ball: more hit-and-run, more bunting to manufacture runs, more sound defense, pitchers working ahead more in the counts ….”
But some of the basics, Gazarek says, never change.
“We tell the kids that, at this level, anybody can beat anybody on any given day,” Gazarek said.
“You try to break it down into little sections. Don’t look too far ahead. Take it one pitch at a time, and try to win that pitch.”
It’s been a memorable spring season for North Baltimore in both sports. And amazingly similar.
The softball and baseball squads both took first-round tournament byes, both beat McComb teams in the district semifinals, and both knocked off top-seeded teams from Carey in their district championship games.
The baseball team — 17-9 — has more wins. The softball team — 16-5 — has fewer losses.
Not much of a difference, but enough to generate some friendly banter now and then.
“There were times both teams rode the same bus to games,” Gazarek said. “They were divided; girls on one side, boys on the other, or one team up front and the other in the back.
“Eventually there’d be some trash talking going on about who was better, but it was all in good fun.”
North Baltimore’s softball team plays Gibsonburg at 2 p.m. today in a regional semifinal at Findlay’s Marathon Diamonds. The baseball team squares off against Plymouth Thursday at 2 p.m. in a regional semifinal at Patrick Henry.
The regional baseball final is Friday at 5 p.m.; the regional softball final Saturday at noon.
Gazarek and Hernandez know there are no guarantees, especially at this stage of the game. But both are hoping they fire up the sirens another time or two before this season comes to a close.