Despite having a 5-8 record midway through the season, Columbus Academy baseball coach Todd Dunkle and his players remained confident in the team's ability.
The Vikings won 12 of their next 17 games, including a 3-2 victory over fourth-seeded Northridge in a Division III district final May 16 at Mount Vernon Nazarene.
"I knew the potential was always there," Dunkle said. "It was just them believing in the process and allowing it to work for them. About midseason, it started to click."
The win gave the 12th-seeded Vikings their first district title since capturing back-to-back championships in 2003 and 2004.
Senior Matthew Saling said a postgame speech by Dunkle after 5-4 loss at Grandview on April 25 was a turning point of the season.
"When we were 5-8 what was going through my head was we have no chance to win the (MSL-Ohio Division), there are a couple games that I want to win and when we get to the playoffs I'm guessing we'll make it to the district semifinals, if that," Saling said. "I didn't expect much, but Dunkle gave us one pep talk after one game. We just weren't playing like a team. We were playing individually.
"From that point forward, we've been playing as a team."
Against Northridge, Academy erased a 2-1 deficit with two runs in the fourth inning and then used solid defense and pitching to secure the district title.
"It was mainly our defense that did the job for us today," Dunkle said. "We had spectacular plays by just about every one of them."
Hayden Compton had an RBI single in the first and earned the win on the mound, pitching six-plus innings.
Saling relieved Compton with two runners on base and no outs in the seventh and ended up pitching out of a bases-loaded jam to preserve the win.
Right fielder Jordan Deuring-Hardiman made a running catch in deep right-center for the final out.
"The ball hung a little bit, but it was a gapper that probably should have won the game (for Northridge)," Saling said. "Jordan made a really good play in right field. ... I saw the ball right before it hit his glove, but then I turned away hoping the catch was guaranteed. He juggled it a little bit, but he caught it."
The win set off a wild celebration behind the pitcher's mound.
"We all threw our gloves into the air and then (had) a big dog pile behind the mound. That was phenomenal," Saling said. "That's a feeling us four seniors have been looking for."
The Vikings, who improved to 17-13, play Archbold in a regional semifinal Thursday, May 24, at Elida Middle School. The regional final is Saturday, May 25, at Elida Middle School, and the regional champion advances to a state semifinal May 31 at Huntington Park.
"We're not done," Saling said. "We are ready to keep going. We're all starting to really come together. I don't think we've hit our peak yet. When we hit our peak, we will be a very difficult team to beat. We still have a lot of places we can improve and once we improve those few things, we still have a long season ahead of us."
Academy advanced to the district final with a 4-0 win over ninth-seeded Johnstown on May 15 at Beavers Field in Lancaster. Noah Glimcher pitched a one-hitter.
"This is just one more step in the process," Dunkle said of the district title. "We're just preparing as usual for the next tournament game."
Doubles team qualifies for state
The doubles team of senior Sam Vogel and junior Suriya Sundaram earned a berth in the Division II boys tennis state tournament by finishing second at district, which began May 17 at Academy and concluded May 19 at Olympic Indoor Tennis Club.
Vogel and Sundaram lost to Wellington's Connor Biernat and Griffin Biernat 7-6, 6-1 in the final.
The top two finishers in singles and doubles advanced to state Friday, May 25, and Saturday, May 26, at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
"I am excited for Sam and Suriya to represent Columbus Academy at the state tournament," first-year coach Marc Wurtzman said. "I am happy for Sam being a senior to get a crack at the state championship. It's been a great year for the team overall and I am looking forward to watching them compete in doubles."
Also at district, Drew Haffer and Rhian Seneviratne went 1-1 in doubles, Arie Tuckerman went 1-1 in singles and Jack Madison and Ryan Wahl went 0-1 in singles.
Track and field teams competing at regional
The boys and girls track and field teams are well represented in the Division III regional meet, which began May 23 and concludes Friday, May 25, at Fairfield Union.
The Vikings competed in the district 2 meet, which concluded May 19 at Watkins Memorial. The top four finishers in each event advanced to regional.
Karibi Hart led the boys team, as he won the 100 meters (10.97 seconds) and 200 (22.14) and ran on two first-place relays. He joined David Barren, Sam Massick and Harry Mills on the winning 400 relay (43.67) and Nick Robie, Angus Soderberg and Nicholas Watson on the winning 1,600 relay (3:27.01).
Watson won the 800 (1:59.99) and joined Robie, Soderberg and Christopher Heermann on the first-place 3,200 relay (8:19.66). Robie won the 1,600 (4:31.76).
Massick, Mills, Ezra Johnson and Kieran Law were second in the 800 relay (1:32.4).
Soderberg was third in the 800 (2:01.25), Massick was fourth in the 100 (11.54), Liam McCann was fourth in the 1,600 (4:43.61), Luke Nester was fourth in the 3,200 (10:14.36) and Caleb Crawley was fourth in the discus (42 feet, 2 3/4 inches).
Academy finished second (128 points) of 12 teams behind Mount Gilead (154).
For the girls, Muriel Goldfarb, Briyana Dragin, Hannah Clay and Samantha Kass won the 800 relay (1:49.06), Clay, Goldfarb, Kass and Annalise Grammel won the 1,600 relay (4:11.44), Grammel won the 800 (2:26.56) and Khloe Dubenion won the discus (110-8).
Finishing second were Grammel, Kass, Regan Cornelius and Maddie Tuckerman in the 3,200 relay (10:20.88), Grammel in the 1,600 (5:29.77), Kass in the 400 (1:02.21) and Goldfarb in the 200 (27.1).
Goldfarb was third in the 100 (13.29), Tuckerman was third in the 3,200 (12:48), Dragin, Jordan Bauknight, Mercedes Crestanello and Ginnie Ma were fourth in the 400 relay (54.21) and Clay was fourth in the 400 (1:02.77).
The Vikings finished second (114) of 12 teams behind Mount Gilead (164).
At regional, the top four finishers in each event qualify for state June 1 and 2 at Ohio State.
Girls lacrosse team cruises to two wins
The girls lacrosse team turned in a pair of impressive efforts in the first two rounds of the Division II, Region 7 tournament to reach a semifinal.
The second-seeded Vikings defeated 13th-seeded Bexley 23-5 on May 17 and seventh-seeded Watterson 18-2 on May 19, both at home.
Against Bexley, Lexi Leader scored six goals and Lauren Bernacki and Tani Obikunle each added four.
Bernacki, Leader, Obikunle and Sydney Hill each scored three goals against Watterson.
Academy was 13-3 before playing third-seeded Worthington Kilbourne in a semifinal May 22, with the winner playing top-seeded DeSales or fourth-seeded Granville in the regional final Friday, May 25, at a neutral site to be determined.
The regional champion advances to a state semifinal Wednesday, May 30, at a neutral site to be determined. The state final is June 2 at Ohio Wesleyan.
Boys lacrosse team falls to DeSales
With just two seniors on the team and a strong nucleus expected to return, first-year boys lacrosse coach Derek Lichtfuss is optimistic about the future of his program.
The Vikings finished 5-9 with a 16-3 loss at top-seeded DeSales on May 17 in a Division II, Region 7 quarterfinal.
Junior midfielder Keenan Bellisari scored two goals and sophomore midfielder/attacker Andrew Swartz added one.
Swartz led the Vikings in scoring with 37 goals and four assists. Sophomore midfielder Charlie Yaw had 24 goals and seven assists, and Bellisari had 23 goals and two assists.
Sophomore goalkeeper Philip Soderberg had six saves against DeSales and finished the season with 102.
Junior midfielder Gunnar Geiger won a team-high 191 faceoffs.
"We knew (DeSales) was going to be a challenge," Lichtfuss said. "We went into this with a mentality that we didn't have anything to lose. We were still fighting at the end. I'm proud of them the way they fought this year with a young team and two seniors. We're ready to come back and start competing right away next year."
Attacker Mike Boeckman and defender Josh Pearson were the only seniors.
Junior midfielder Malcolm Klingbeil missed most of the season with a right ACL injury. Other players eligible to return include juniors Dalyn DeCree (defender) and Oscar Giller (midfielder) and sophomore defender Ryan Hunker.
After a first-round bye, the 10th-seeded Vikings won at ninth-seeded Dayton Oakwood 11-8 in the second round May 14.
"It was a full team effort all year," Lichtfuss said. "We played 23 games between the j.v. and the varsity and a lot of guys played both ways. The goal this year was development and we had a lot of guys who I didn't think (would) play at the beginning of the year that were contributing a lot by the end of the year."