BY JEREMY SCHNEIDER| MIRROR SPORTS — Ryan Donley isn’t shy about proclaiming the Northern Lakes League the best baseball conference in the entire state, and the postseason stats back up the Anthony Wayne coach.
Still alive in the district tournament were Perrys-burg, Springfield, Northview and Donley’s Generals. It was the meatgrinder of a league schedule that prepared AW for a deep run in the Division I tournament, ending in a semifinal loss to the eventual state champion Olentangy Orange.
The Generals ended the season with 27 wins, a perfect 14-0 mark in the NLL and as one of the last four D-I teams alive in the state. Before the season, Donley knew his squad had the right pieces and it was a matter of putting together the puzzle the right way.
After a 4-3 start to the season, Donley admitted it took a while to figure out how to solve the Generals puzzle.
“I’ve said all year that some teams need to be coached and others need to be managed. We have really good ball players, but we needed to manage them,” he said.
“A lot of the non-baseball things that matter were a daily conversation with our group. We had college-level kids on our bench and that’s not easy. We had a D-I pitcher that assumed a closer role because it was what was best for the team.
“I cannot thank these kids enough for buying in and accepting their roles. Without that factor, this team doesn’t achieve the success that it did.”
The Generals marched through the first two games of the postseason, beating Ashland, 13-0, and Fremont Ross, 10-0, in a pair of five-inning decisions.
It got considerably tougher from there, as AW pulled out three straight one-run wins – 6-5 in eight innings over Springfield; 6-5 over St. John’s Jesuit; and 3-2 over Medina to win a regional title.
The Generals were on the wrong end of a one-run decision against Orange, losing 3-2 in nine innings.
“There is no question that losing hurts. When winning is the expectation, anything short of that stings,” Donley said. “However, there is so much more to what we do than play baseball. Baseball is simply the platform we use to build relationships and share experiences.
“Most probably think the hurt comes from not winning a state championship, sure. However, the part our kids were most upset about is not getting one more game together. That speaks volumes to the culture and love within our program.”
Senior Marco Morrison led AW in the postseason, going 10-for-20 at the plate with 12 RBI and five runs. The Ohio Northern-bound Morrison hit home runs in the first two games, including a grand slam against Ross. He was named first-team All-NLL and all-district as well as honorable mention All-Ohio and an Augusta Series All-Star.
Junior Bryce Anderson hit .450 (9-for-20) with eight runs and three RBI, while senior Mitchell Harder batted .429 (9-for-21) with five runs and four RBI. Jack Behnfeldt, who also made first-team NLL and district, drove in five runs during the postseason, going 2-for-3 with two doubles, two runs and two RBI against Ashland.
Brayden Weis made the NLL, district and state first teams and was the district Pitcher of the Year. He allowed only two runs in 16 postseason innings with 13 strikeouts.
This was the second state final four appearance in Generals program history, following a runner-up finish in 2018. Donley has coached wrestlers to a state championship (Caleb Yates, 2015) and a semifinalist finish (Cody Moosman, 2016), and he was an assistant on the state final four football team in ‘16.
He admitted, however, that getting to this spot with the baseball team “was really special.”
“The biggest takeaway from this season was that when you buy into something bigger than yourself, good things can happen,” he said. “Our program focuses on building positive relationships and doing things the right way.
“Our kids, coaches, parents, administrators and community were bought-in all year long, which is the main reason for our success this season. We had a lot of fun competing and genuinely looked forward to being at the ballpark every day.”