Most Dramatic State Tournament Events: No. 3
Keefe's homer lifted Lakewood
Lakewood High School baseball player J.P. Keefe's home run provided a quick and decisive end to the Division II state final on June 4, 2005.
Leading off the bottom of the seventh inning, the senior first baseman hit the first pitch from Hamilton Badin's Jerry Young over the fence in left-center field in Cooper Stadium to give the Lancers a 2-1 victory and the No. 3 Most Dramatic State Tournament Event of the ThisWeek era.
"I remember he hit a curveball," longtime coach Don Thorp said recently. "It had been his personal preference not to swing at a first-pitch curveball during his career. But I always told him, 'If it's a hanging curveball that means it's a mistake pitch so don't let it get away.' I guess he listened."
As Keefe settled into the batter's box, Badin pitcher Kyle Pfirrman was warming up in the bullpen. The 6-foot-2 Pfirrman, who later signed with the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, had been masterful when the Rams defeated Parma Padua 1-0 in a state semifinal two days earlier, striking out 11 in a four-hitter.
"It was my speculation that if J.P. had gotten on base they would have brought him in (to pitch to designated hitter Chase Hostasa)," Thorp said. "As things turned out, well, they didn't get that opportunity."
Afterward, Keefe said perhaps the most surprising element of his clutch hit was the reaction of the normally stoic Thorp, who with the win tied the state record for most coaching victories.
"He was standing on the grass there (in the third-base coach's box) dancing," Keefe said.
Despite the dramatic ending, the game mostly had been a pitcher's duel. Andrew Ford went the distance for the Lancers and routinely escaped trouble, scattering six hits and stranding seven runners. He recorded 10 outs on groundballs. Young had allowed just four hits through six innings with nine groundball outs.
Badin took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third, but Keefe drove in Lakewood's first run with a sacrifice fly that scored Chris Hoffer in the fourth.
Keefe also played a key role on defense. Badin tried to put together a two-out rally in the top of the seventh, putting a couple of runners on base when Dan Hurst doubled to left and Drew Maus was intentionally walked. Drew Wurzelbacher then hit a ball to Keefe at first base that took a bad hop. Keefe knocked the ball down with his bare hand, scooped it up and beat Wurzelbacher to the base.
"It was all reaction," Keefe said. "I was just trying to keep it in the infield so they couldn't get the run in."
That set the stage for Keefe's shining moment. His home run cleared the fence just above the 385-foot sign, and he said he saw the left fielder's head drop while rounding first base.
"I was just trying to get a base hit and get the inning going," Keefe said. "I ended up getting a little bit more."
The Lancers finished 32-2 overall and won the MSL-Ohio Division title that spring at 13-1. They won a third state championship, although it was their first since taking consecutive titles in 1993-94.
Badin also was aiming for its third state title, which would have been its first since 1996, and remains stuck on two even though it has advanced to the state tournament four times since Keefe's homer. The Rams also lost in the state final in 2008 and 2009.
Many of Lakewood's players also were on the 2004 team that had been ranked first in the final state poll and was 31-0 before losing 6-3 to Steubenville in a regional final. The Lancers also finished first in the state poll in 2005.
"The very nature of baseball is that a very, very good team can lose on any given day and on any given pitch. The best team loses somewhere every day," Thorp said. "We won that year not only for that particular group of players but also for some of our other teams that didn't make it there."
Aside from providing great theater, Keefe's home run enabled Thorp to tie Timothy Engleka, who won 760 games at Centerville from 1964-2002, as Ohio's all-time winningest coach. Thorp broke the record in Lakewood's opener the following year.
He had 867 wins through 2012, which was his 40th season with the Lancers. In 2010, they made their eighth appearance in the state tournament under Thorp. Mike Cameron, whose teams won state titles in four decades, also surpassed Engleka's mark and now ranks second after winning 768 games at Cincinnati Moeller from 1969-2007.
"I still enjoy it, and I suppose I'll stay as long as that's the way I feel," the 68-year-old Thorp said. "I don't know what else I'd do with my time."
The 6-3 Keefe, who also starred in basketball at Lakewood, went on to play baseball at Rio Grande.
"It was as emotional a moment as I've had doing this. I even remember jumping up and down a little bit," Thorp said, recalling the scene following Keefe's homer. "You don't win many games that way -- let alone a state championship."