HARTVILLE When winter made its last push through Northeast Ohio, bringing one final wave of cold-weather misery with it, the Lake Center Christian Tigers made like snow birds and headed south.
The Cal Ripken Experience is an annual tournament that brings teams from throughout the country to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for a week of baseball and softball. LCC went 1-2 in its three games (plus a JV contest) at the tournament, but the record doesn’t tell the whole story for the Tigers.
As with many northern teams that head to South Carolina, the Tigers used the trip as a chance to get in plenty of practice time and games at a point in the season when cold, rain and even snow can make it difficult to get outside in Ohio.
“We were able to play or practice every day in great facilities and great weather and our first game was under the lights, so that was special for the guys,” head coach Shane Byler said.
The first game of the trip also proved to be the most exciting for LCC, as it captured a 2-1 win over Germantown Academy, with top start James Kontur pitching his team to a dramatic win. Playing a night game is typically a special experience for high school teams, most of whom don’t have lights at their home field or a chance to play at a facility with lights during the typical season.
Night games can give the feel of a big matchup and a bit of a major league atmosphere, so dueling a quality opponent in such a setting made for a memorable night for the Tigers.
“Our win in that first game was probably the best win we’ve had in my tenure here,” Byler said. “The guys all played well, James pitched a great game and we beat a quality opponent.”
Losses in the next two games sent LCC home with a 1-2 record, but the coaching staff said the team hit well in all three games. The overall level of competition was strong, according to Byler, and for the most part, comparable to the level of competition back home. The biggest difference came when facing teams from warmer climates who had gotten more chances to be outside, practicing and especially playing games early in the season while LCC and other Northeast Ohio teams have had fewer chances to compete.
“The biggest difference, I’d say, was that a lot of those teams were further into their seasons and they were more comfortable with playing and game situations, where they didn’t have as many of those early season mistakes,” Byler said.
Off the field, the trip went as smoothly as it could have for a large group of mostly high school students can go. Not only did the baseball team make the trip, but the LCC softball team took part in the tournament as well. That made for a large traveling contingent and Byler estimated that about half of the families with players on the baseball team were able to make the trip as well. A few former LCC baseball players were a part of the trip, further adding to the family atmosphere.
The only small logistical issue that arose was a portion of the LCC traveling party ending up at the other end of the property at the facility where the team stayed, making it tougher to coordinate activities and schedule meetings.
On one of the final nights of the trip, the baseball team had the night off and went to watch the softball team play. Afterward, the team went out for a barbecue dinner and a putt-putt golf competition afterward.
“The coaches actually got beat on that one,” Byler said of the golf competition.
One area that didn’t factor into the trip was the beach, despite its close proximity throughout the tournament. Due to the chilly water temperatures in early spring, even in Myrtle Beach, there wasn’t a chance to spend a day at the beach or get into the ocean, but there were still plenty of chances for spring break fun.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, their stay in South Carolina didn’t last long enough to completely avoid the final remnants of winter in Northeast Ohio. Shortly after they returned home, a wave of cold and snow swept through the area, once again driving them indoors for a few days. Still, they used the energy from their trip to start 5-0 in the Ohio-based portion of their schedule and brought back good memories of their time in the sun to keep them warm.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB