ST. BERNARD, Ohio — Roger Bacon baseball coach Tim McCoy discovered some 200 text messages on his phone the evening of May 31.
Roger Bacon had just defeated Versailles 2-0 in a Division III regional final at Wright State University to give the Spartans their first trip to the state baseball tournament since 1968.
Two of the text messages immediately caught McCoy’s eye. They were from former Roger Bacon basketball teammates Beckham Wyrick and Matt Reed.
As two of McCoy’s teammates on the famous 2002 state champion Roger Bacon basketball team that defeated LeBron James and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Wyrick and Reed were psyched about the opportunity to see the Spartans in Northeast Ohio this weekend.
Wyrick, who lives in Alabama, and Reed, who lives in Florida, told the former point guard they would book flights to Cleveland to watch the Spartans try to capture their first state baseball title since Babe Ruth played with the Boston Braves.
“That’s awesome stuff,” McCoy said Monday. “I still get guys saying, ‘I cannot believe Roger Bacon baseball is in the final four.’ It’s so awesome. It’s been a really good experience.”
Roger Bacon (18-10) plays Coldwater (25-6) in a Division III state semifinal at 4 p.m. Saturday at Canal Park in Akron. The winner will play either West Lafayette Ridgewood (23-9) or Canton Central Catholic (24-6) in the state final at 7 p.m. Sunday.
This weekend will mark the fifth state appearance for the Roger Bacon baseball program (1968, 1944, 1935 and 1932). Roger Bacon’s only state baseball title occurred in 1935 (Class A) – Ruth’s final year in major league baseball.
McCoy is the only Spartan to play and coach in a state final four since the school was established in 1928, according to Roger Bacon assistant athletic director Brandon Spaeth.
The Akron irony didn’t stop with the 2002 teammates. Roger Bacon’s regional basketball title in ’02 also occurred at Wright State, just like the baseball regional title this past weekend.
As the Spartans prepare to leave for Akron on Thursday, the school considered a practice at St. Vincent-St. Mary – less than two miles from Canal Park (aptly near King James Way) – before deciding on another location.
“I told these guys, ‘You have a little bit of luck behind you right now,'” said McCoy.
Roger Bacon hasn’t needed much luck this season. The Spartans played a rugged schedule against the likes of Fairfield, Elder, Badin and others to prepare for the tournament.
“We’re just a really hard-working team,” said senior Chris McDaniel. “We don’t quit. We are a grinding team. That’s our motto: 'We grind.' And at the end of the day we come up winning.”
When the Spartans defeated Greenon 9-2 in a district final May 22, it marked the first time Roger Bacon had won a district baseball title since 1996.
“It felt like we won a state championship when we won that game,” McCoy said. “It really laid the groundwork for what happened this past weekend.”
Of Roger Bacon’s 21 players on the roster, 19 are capable of pitching. The pitching and defense were significant reasons why McCoy told the parents in a March meeting the Spartans would be in the state final four.
“Once they put the spikes on the field, it’s 100 percent go at all times,” McCoy said. “I like to say we play the game like Pete Rose did. Guys are dirty at the end of games. It’s tough, old-school baseball. These guys have bought in. It’s a good group of kids.”
Roger Bacon will embody that spirit three-and-half hours north this weekend. The Spartans have solid pitching and timely hitting.
“We’re not the deepest team in the world, but we have a bunch of guys that are playing together right now and believe in each other,” McCoy said.
Sophomore Evan Webb’s two-run single helped lift the Spartans in the regional final. Junior Tyler Bullock pitched 6 1/3 innings, and junior Chris Hoffmann picked up the save.
Through 26 games, Hoffmann, most regularly a third baseman and outfielder, was hitting .395 with 11 doubles, one home run and 33 RBI.
“In my honest opinion – I know it’s a little biased – but I think he’s the best hitter in Cincinnati,” McCoy said. “The kid has raw power. When he takes batting practice it’s just a show. It just sounds like gun blasts when he swings the bat.”
The Spartans also have the likes of sophomore pitcher Ryan Hallau (six wins), senior first baseman Dylan Polk (.362 batting average through 26 games) and senior shortstop Jake Speed (28 runs, five doubles through 26 games).
The fact that Roger Bacon is going to state is still in some ways kind of surreal. That may be a good thing, McCoy said, because the Spartans are still hungry.
“I was talking about it to some of my teammates like a couple of days after (the regional final),” Polk said. “I’m like, ‘We’re really going to state. This is really happening.’ But now it’s settled in and I am ready to get a good day of practice in and let’s get this bread.”