By Tom Usher email@example.com
July 27, 2014
It was a one of a kind summer.
After the Lima Locos stumbled out of the gate at 2-4 and went 10-10 for the first half, they suddenly ripped off an eight-game winning streak. That kick started the team to finish the year with a mark of 17-3 over its final 20 games.
The 27 wins marked the third highest win total by the Locos, falling two short of the record 29 in the championship year of 2011.
When the regular season was over, the Locos had finished 27-13 and had won the Great Lakes Collegiate League regular-season championship. With it, they earned the No. 1 seed in the GLCL playoffs.
The Locos get a first-round bye and advance to the best-of-three GLCL semifinals against an opponent to be determined. Game 1 will be Wednesday on the road. Game 2 and Game 3, if necessary, will be at Lima’s Simmons Field.
Here’s this year’s regular-season grade card on the Locos:
The anchor of the infield was first baseman Dylan Ingram (Mississippi State). Down the stretch, he was an RBI machine. He hit .274 and tied for the league lead in RBIs with 36. He also had three home runs and nine doubles.
Shortstop Adam Smith (Alabama-Birmingham) and Jalen Washington (Ohio State) saw the bulk of the action at shortstop and both showed marked improvement, defensively, as the year went on. Smith hit .188, while Washington batted .222.
Second and third base became a rotation with Matt Spruill (Mississippi State), Brett Carlson (Purdue) and Chase Puente (Xavier).
Carlson was among the league leaders in hitting most the year and finished second on the team in hitting with a .333 average. He had six doubles and 13 RBIs and seven stolen bases. Spruill, who came back from being hit in the head with a pitch late in the season, batted .230. Puente hit .221.
It wasn’t the best year for the infield defense, but it did improve in the second half, including two games without an error during the final week.
On the year, the Locos finished with 75 errors, while their opponents had 78 errors.
The Locos had a little bit of everything here.
Defensive catcher Mason George (McLennan CC) saw most of the action behind the plate, while offensive power plant Daniel Garner (Mississippi State) was used at designated hitter and catcher.
Infielder Jalen Washington was used in a pinch.
Garner led the league in home runs with eight. He batted .327 with 32 RBIs, which was third in the league. In the final regular-season game, he went 4 for 5 with two home runs, a double and four RBIs. Garner also had 13 doubles, one short of the Locos’ team record of 14 set by Andy Chriscaden in 2011.
George struggled at the plate, at .167, but was a plus in throwing, blocking balls and handling pitchers.
Locos center fielder Kyle Lewis (Mercer) was everywhere. He ran down balls in both gaps and also glided back to the center-field fence to make a number of outstanding catches.
At the plate, the 6-foot-4 Lewis led the team with a .342 average. He tied with Ingram for the league lead in RBIs with 36. He was second in the GLCL in home runs with six. He also set the team record for runs scored in a season with 41, which led the league.
D.J. Smith (Georgia) patrolled right field most of the year and had plenty of speed, as well. He led the team with 10 stolen bases, hit .302 with eight doubles and 23 RBIs. He also played exceptional defense.
Matt Furuto (Alabama-Birmingham) did a little of everything for the club, including putting down bunts, getting key hits and playing solid defense in left and right field. He came on with the bat down the stretch and ended up hitting .289 with nine doubles and 19 RBIs. Furuto also led the team in walks (21) and hit by pitch (11).
Jonathan Herkins (Cal-Irvine) came to the team late since Anteaters were in the College World Series. But Herkins was a key ingredient, making a couple amazing catches, including one slamming into the left-field fence at home. He ran well and hit .288 with six stolen bases.
The Locos’ pitching staff led the league in ERA at 3.06. The key was being able to roll out at least six starters who gave consistent outings nearly every time out.
Left-hander Dan Sexton (Tiffin) was dominate with his fastball, breaking ball and amazing change-up. He went 3-0 with a 1.62 ERA. On July 6, he threw a nine-inning, complete-game 8-0 shutout over Xenia. Then, in a 17-inning win at Grand Lake on July 19, he went 9 2/3 innings and gave up one run on six hits.
Right-hander Cory Wilder (North Carolina State/Shawnee) led the league with 60 strikeouts, as he threw consistently between 93 to 95 mph. He had the command of his off-speed pitches most of the season. He finished 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA. Wilder set the single-game Locos’ record for strikeouts when he struck out 16 in a nine-inning, complete-game, three-hit 4-1 win over Southern Ohio on July 9. His 60 strikeouts were the second best in team history behind Scott Jones’ 67 in 1993.
Right-hander Luke Crumley (Georgia) led the team in wins, as he went 4-1 with a 2.89 ERA. On June 26, at Hamilton, he threw six shutout innings, giving up four hits for the win.
Right-hander Robert Zeigler (Kentucky/Defiance) threw well as a starter and in relief. He went 1-1 with a 4.12 ERA. Zeigler went six innings and gave up no runs on one hit in an 8-7 win over Grand Lake on July 18.
Right-hander Austin Sexton (Mississippi State) and right-hander Jake Steffens (Santa Clara) were effective all year. Sexton went 2-1 with a 2.89. Steffens was 2-1 with a 4.02 as a starter and a reliever.
Left-hander Robby Howell was 2-2 with a 5.29 ERA.
The bullpen shuffled roles for most of the year, but by the final week Erich Stahl (Young Harris) had taken over the closer’s role. He used his 91 mph fastball to register a team-high three saves with a 3.21 ERA. He struck out 17 in 14 innings.
Trevor Guthrie (Chattahoochee Valley), Steffens and James Naile all had two saves.
Down the stretch, the team’s top set-up men were Guthrie and Tyler Anderson (Bowling Green State/Shawnee). Both were able to throw their breaking ball and other off-speed pitches for strikes.
Guthrie had a 0.79 ERA, with 16 strikeouts in 11 innings. Anderson’s ERA was 2.58.
Lefty Wes Rivers (Lincoln Trail/Defiance) logged a 2.07 ERA in relief.
Naile (Alabama-Birmingham), coming off Tommy John surgery, was able to come in and throw strikes. Considering the surgery, it was amazing he had a 0.00 ERA in 10 innings.
Alex Thackston (Marshall) made two starts and contributed to the team’s strong relief with a 3.17 ERA. He had 20 strikeouts in 17 innings.
Right-hander Michael Bonifay (South Mountain) owns a baffling knuckleball, and he mixes it in a lot. He was quite effective out the pen with a 2-0 mark and 1.80 ERA.
Ben Hudspeth (Mississippi State) threw well the final day, but battled his command and had a 9.00 ERA.
The Locos led the league in runs scored with 237 (5.9 per game), RBIs (204) and hits (381). They were second in batting at .275 and second in home runs (21).
They also led the league in pitching with a 3.06 ERA. The staff gave up the fewest hits (297) and led the league in strikeouts (336).
The Locos had a few hiccups on defense, but excellent starting pitching and a strong everyday lineup, with power, carried the Locos to the regular-season title.
The No. 1-seed Locos could be in line for their fourth GLCL championship if the starting pitching performs like it has all year and the hitting is as consistent as it was in the final 20 games.