It appears that Division I baseball in central Ohio was hit by a perfect storm when 11th-seeded Olentangy Orange, eighth-seeded Big Walnut and seventh-seeded Gahanna won district championships, but history bears out that storm clouds almost always hover over the top seeds and the word “upset" is way off base.
Gahanna (16-7) is going to the regional for the sixth time in 10 years, Big Walnut (23-5) for the second straight season and Orange (20-8) for the second time since 2012.
Last year, Pickerington North won the state championship as the No. 8 seed in the Central District. In 2015, North and Canal Winchester reached the regional as 11th and 10th seeds, respectively.
“I’ve been on both sides at the seeding meeting, and with an 11th seed I did feel good about the draw,” Orange coach Phil Callaghan said. “It’s almost that you want to be eighth through 12th where you can pick your path. It’s a grind in central Ohio.”
The Pioneers play Hilliard Darby, which was a second seed, at 2 p.m. Thursday in a regional semifinal at Dublin Coffman. Big Walnut plays Gahanna at 5 p.m.
“We have great kids and a lot of talent, but we had not played good baseball for the majority of the year,” Callaghan said. “For 14 straight innings we did play well in the district. We gave up only two free 90s — the opponent getting on base by a hit or walk.”
Gahanna coach Mike Shade said the district and regional tournaments always are dicey because of the quality and depth of teams.
“There is so much good pitching and if you get a player who gets hot he can stop anybody,” he said. “I also have been watching games where it comes to the last at-bat like the Pickerington Central and Hilliard Darby district final.”
The Lions won the state tournament in 2013 and ’14 and know how to play the seeding game.
“That first group that came through in ’07 and ’08 changed the whole mindset,” Shade said. “We’ve always had young guys get exposed to how things are done and the belief that when it comes to district tournament time they can be successful. They raise the level of their play.”
DeSales (17-11), which plays Hamilton Ross in a Division II semifinal in Mason, won its sixth district title under coach Tom Neubert. The Stallions won state championships in 2011 and ’12 and reached the semifinals in ’09.
“I think our strong points are pitching and defense,” Neubert said. “We retired 23 of 24 Johnstown batters from the third inning through the 10th (in a 4-3 district semifinal victory). With the new pitch count rule you have to have three pitchers who can compete, and we do. Our schedule was tough and it took us a while to figure things out.”
Also in Division II, Jonathan Alder (21-5) plays Lexington in Bowling Green. The Pioneers have won six district titles in eight seasons and were state champions in 2010 and runners-up in '13 and '14.
“Our theme every year is ‘believe,’ ” coach Craig Kyle said. “That is on the back of our shirts, and it’s a state of mind and not just a word. You do whatever it takes and the team is bigger than you, and you are a teammate first. We keep it simple — throw strikes, make good throws and put the ball in play.”
Newark Catholic, which is seeking a third straight state title, plays Tri-County North in a Division IV semifinal at 5 p.m. in Lancaster.