Even while it was enduring a .500 season last spring, the Olentangy Liberty High School baseball team never could shake the feeling that it was much better than its record.
Nearly the entire roster returned this season, including three players who missed all or most of last year with injuries but would become key contributors in what would end up being the greatest season in program history.
The Patriots opened the season on a 10-game winning streak, earned the top seed for the Division I district tournament and won three consecutive one-run games during the postseason before dominating their way to their first state championship.
After beating New Albany 8-1 on May 25 at Dublin Coffman to win its first regional title, Liberty defeated Medina Highland 13-2 on June 1 and Whitehouse Anthony Wayne 8-1 on June 2 in the state tournament at Huntington Park.
Liberty went 13-13 last season but finished 30-4 overall this spring.
"It's amazing because last year we were a middle-of-the-pack team and most of our guys are the same guys," senior pitcher Mitch Milheim said. "It's not just the work we put in in this offseason and this preseason but all the years before. It's amazing to see all of that pay off."
Milheim, an Ohio State recruit who was OCC-Buckeye Division Player of the Year, was 2-for-3 with three RBI and pitched 4 1/3 innings to pick up the victory in the state semifinal against Highland. He finished 10-0 with a 1.31 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 59 innings.
Junior pitcher Jack Metzger went 5-0 with a 0.68 ERA, including giving up three hits, walking three and striking out seven in a complete-game victory against Anthony Wayne in the state final.
The Patriots produced 29 runs on 36 hits over their final three games.
"We had guys with a lot of confidence, and the strength of our team is our team," coach Ty Brenning said. "We've not been talking about Huntington (Park) a lot ... but we just kind of prepared for it. The nice thing about our lineup is not only the depth but the various types of ways we can score runs. To be able to do that when it matters the most hopefully gives you an advantage. I feel like our guys are so competitive at the plate and are going to give pitchers fits. They're going to use all parts of the field."
Milheim and Metzger were joined on the all-league first team by junior Mitchell Okuley (RF) and sophomore Brennan Rowe (LF/P). Seniors Beau Foster (P), Corey Mayer (DH/2B) and Carson Comer (3B) were second-team all-league, senior Michael Osmond (P) was special mention and junior Corbin Parrish (CF) was honorable mention.
Milheim and Okuley also were first-team all-district.
Mayer started as a sophomore but missed all of his junior season after having back surgery. He missed time early this season as he continued to recover but went 2-for-2 with four RBI in the state semifinal and had a three-run double to open the scoring in the state final on his way to finishing the season with a .371 batting average.
Osmond went 5-1 with a 1.83 ERA after missing last season with a foot injury.
Foster missed most of last season with tendinitis but finished 3-0 with three saves and a 0.51 ERA in 27 1/3 innings.
Other key seniors were Connor Osmond (2B), who went 2-for-3 in the state final, and Pete Atkinson (C), who threw out 11 of 22 base-runners attempting to steal while playing in all 34 games.
"We went 13-13 last year but felt more like a 20-6 team," Brenning said. "Then you get three kids back in Mayer, Foster and Osmond and all of a sudden they're healthy. That's what's really kind of come together."
Liberty finished 14-1 in the OCC-Buckeye to win the league ahead of Olentangy (11-4), Orange (7-8), Westerville Central (6-9), Westerville North (4-11) and Westerville South (3-12). Brenning was named league Coach of the Year.
Then in the postseason, Liberty beat 31st-seeded North 13-2 on May 9, 23rd-seeded Orange 2-1 in a game that began May 15 and was concluded the next day and 16th-seeded Marysville 5-4 on May 17 in a district final at Coffman.
On May 24 in a regional semifinal at Coffman, Liberty edged Lancaster 3-2.
Rowe, who was the winning pitcher against Marysville and went 4-1 with a 1.63 ERA, figures to join Metzger as a key returning pitcher. He also batted a team-best .402 with 24 RBI and 23 runs scored.
Okuley, an Ohio State recruit, batted .362 with 24 RBI and 30 runs, and Parrish hit .365 with 26 RBI and 27 runs.
Junior Justin Nelson (1B/P) batted .360 with a team-leading 30 RBI, and Comer had 23 RBI and scored 23 runs.
Junior Craig Lutwen (INF), who scored 28 runs, and sophomore A.J. Rausch (INF/OF) also should be key returnees.
Others eligible to return include juniors Drew Lane (P), Andrew Rodriguez (INF) and Ben Wennner (P).
"If you don't ever apply your knowledge, it's just philosophy," Brenning said. "For these guys to apply (what they've learned) shows that they have the wisdom of a mature team. This team had a huge impact on a lot of people."