Chris Fugitt, the only baseball coach Hilliard Darby High School has had since it opened in the fall of 1997, has stepped down after 21 seasons, days after the second-seeded Panthers lost to ninth-seeded Olentangy 5-4 in a Division I district final May 16.
“I’ve been thinking about this seriously the past few months,” said Fugitt, whose team finished 21-8 overall this season. “If I’m not committed to give it my all every day, I don’t want to do it. How can I ask our players to do that if I can’t? Let’s face it, the job has changed and is a lot more of a time commitment than it used to be.
“That time commitment is taking away from my family life. My son (Justin, a 2017 Darby graduate) is a redshirt freshman (for the) Purdue (baseball team) and I’d like to be able to watch him play some. I still have one daughter in high school at Davidson and the oldest is a junior at Ohio State and they’re also involved in activities.”
Fugitt served as an assistant at Bloomdale Elmwood for two seasons and then was an assistant at Hilliard High School for five seasons before Darby opened.
He compiled a 348-243 record with the Panthers. His teams won six OCC championships (2007, ‘08, ‘15, ‘16, ‘17 and ‘18) and four district titles (2007, ‘08, ‘13 and ‘17). Darby has had 13 winning seasons, including seven in which it had at least 20 wins.
“It took us a handful of years to build, but what we have done in the past 12 to 15 years has been pretty special and that makes me feel like now is the right time to leave,” Fugitt said. “The cupboard isn’t bare. We’ve got talent coming up at all levels.”
In the district final, Olentangy broke a 3-all tie with two runs in the top of the seventh inning. In the bottom of the inning, the Panthers responded with one run and left the potential tying run at second base.
“We had some chances and I was confident even heading into the bottom of the seventh because we had the top of our order up,” Fugitt said. “We had our first two runners on base with the heart of the order coming up. Those guys came through in those situations all season, but we just came up short this time.”
The Panthers opened the postseason by beating 42nd-seeded Logan 10-0 in six innings in a second-round home game May 9 and edged 21st-seeded St. Charles 2-1 in a district semifinal May 14 at Coffman before falling to Olentangy on the same field.
Darby won its fourth consecutive league championship, going 9-3 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to finish ahead of Dublin Scioto and Bradley (both 7-5), Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne (both 6-6), Dublin Jerome (4-8) and Delaware (3-9).
“It was a good season overall,” Fugitt said. “We won our fourth straight OCC championship and our kids battled all the way through the season. We have been a district finalist for four years in a row and have had four consecutive 20-win seasons. That’s quite a legacy for our seniors.”
The Panthers are losing 10 seniors, including Chandler Barlow (P/1B), Tyler Chumita (P/SS), Ian Coverstone (P/LF), Ben Gbur (P/CF), Tim Hales (1B/C), Clay Strausbaugh (C), Brice Stultz (P/RF/1B) and Cameron Tackett (3B).
Gbur was 6-1 on the mound with a 1.32 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings and batted .303 with 21 runs scored and 23 RBI. He was named league Player of the Year and first-team all-district.
Chumita, Coverstone and Stultz were second-team all-league and Stultz was honorable mention all-district. Hales and Strausbaugh were honorable mention all-league.
Stultz batted .341 with 17 RBI and was 4-0 on the mound with a 2.31 ERA in 30 1/3 innings. Coverstone batted .337 with 22 runs, Hales hit .306 with 20 RBI and Chumita batted .267 with 24 runs.
On the mound, Barlow was 4-2 with a 3.32 ERA in 46 1/3 innings.
Among the expected return-ees are juniors Mason Bowers (OF), Ryan Eatherton (C), Grant Hollinger (P/OF), Kyle Miller (P/2B), Seth Schmidt (P/INF) and Dan Snyder (P/2B) and sophomore Jacob Wells (P).
Hollinger batted .351 with nine RBI and Bowers hit .322 with 13 RBI. On the mound, Wells was 3-1 with two saves and a 1.67 ERA in 29 1/3 innings and Schmidt was 4-2 with a 2.38 ERA in 17 2/3 innings.