Mechanicsburg baseball advances to regionals for first time

On April 5, the Mechanicsburg High School baseball team lost to West Jefferson 22-0, its worse defeat of the early season. The loss was a lesson of sorts for a young team without a senior on its roster.

“We didn’t really know what our identity was,” said Indians coach Bryan Eyink. “I knew that wasn’t us. We had players and coaches come together and talk about what we wanted this year. … The kids have bought in since that day. I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids.”

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Eight weeks later, the Indians are still standing as one of 16 teams in Ohio in the Division IV tournament.

The Indians (21-7) would go on to win 19 of its next 24 games, earning their first trip to the regionals in program history. They’ll play Minster (20-7) in a regional semifinal game at 5 p.m. Thursday at Carleton Davidson Stadium in Springfield.

“It’s very special for the players, the coaches, the community and the school,” Eyink said. “It’s been an exciting place the last week here.”

The road to the district championship made it even more special, the coach said.

In the district semifinal at Miami East, the Indians played 13 innings over two days, beating Lehman Catholic 2-1 in 13 innings on a walk-off squeeze bunt by freshman Aaron Conley. Mechanicsburg used its top three pitchers — freshman Jake Edwards, sophomore Lane Casey and sophomore Brooks Tom — in the marathon game.

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In the district final against Cincinnati Seven Hills, the Indians pitched their next two pitchers — juniors Kix Thiel and Logan Hurst. Hurst was brought in with the bases loaded and one out. He got of the jam and pitched 4.1 innings in relief, allowing just one hit the rest of the way.

“We’ve been playing with a next man up mentality,” said Eyink, who is in his seventh season as head coach.

The Indians scored three runs in the fourth inning to break a 4-4 tie and went on to win 9-5 for its first district title. The baseball banner in the Mechanicsburg gym will be updated for the first time since the program won back-to-back league titles in 1964 and 1965, Eyink said.

“Our guys are going to be a part of that forever,” he said. “That’s never going to go away.”

Mechanicsburg is one of two Ohio Heritage Conference North Division teams remaining in the postseason. West Jefferson (23-4) will play West Lafayette Ridgewood (21-9) in a D-III regional semifinal on Thursday.

“I always tell people OHC baseball is tough,” Eyink said. “That North side is a gauntlet. You’ve got a lot of good baseball teams with a lot of great, rich history.”

A year ago, Mechanicsburg went 9-15 with just two league wins.

The Indians are led at the plate by two of their youngest players, Conley (.473, 45 RBIs) and Edwards (.410, 25 RBIs). The Indians roster doesn’t have a senior, meaning they’ll have high expectations again next season.

“It’s a great step toward the future,” Eyink said. “Everybody contributes. We told them from Day 1 that while there are no senior leaders here, everybody is a leader. It doesn’t matter if you’re 15 years old or 18 years old, you’re going to be asked to do some things you may have not been asked to do in the past. They’ve lived up to it and really enjoyed it.”

The Indians will face a formidable foe in Minster, which won the state championship in 2017. Eyink, a 2003 Coldwater grad, knows all about Midwest Athletic Conference baseball and expects them to bring a big crowd to Springfield.

The Mechanicsburg youth rec league cancelled all of its games on Thursday to allow for its players to experience the game, he said.

“It means a lot to us,” Eyink said. “We know they’re going to travel well, but our community is going to come out as well. I think we’ll bring a good crowd to Wittenberg.”

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