Westland Roundup: Tim Eckard ending run as Cougars track and field coach
Tim Eckard has made fond memories coaching track and field at Westland, but after 19 seasons, he has announced he is stepping down because of family commitments.
“I thought it was the right time to turn the reins over,” said Eckard, who will continue to teach social studies at the school. “We’re heading in the right direction. I want to spend more quality time with my wife (Michelle). Just a change of priorities. I’ve loved every minute of coaching. ... My body was telling me it was time to go.”
Eckard coached in his final Division I regional meet May 26 at Pickerington North as sophomore Blake Bilger competed in the long jump.
Bilger earned the regional berth by finishing fourth (personal-best 20 feet, 11 inches) in the district 2 meet May 18 at Hilliard Darby. The top four finishers in each event advanced.
At regional, the top four finishers in each event advanced to state June 4 and 5 at Darby.
“I knew he had a chance,” Eckard said. “He had a 3.5-inch personal record. It was a pleasant surprise, but we knew he had the ability to do it. It was a matter if he could do it at the biggest meet with the biggest pressure. That’s what a lot of these kids showed (at district).”
Bilger said he was surprised he qualified for regional since he was competing in his first postseason at the prep level.
“I didn’t think I had a chance to qualify,” he said. “I just had to try my best, be confident and not try to think too much. This makes me feel proud and confident about myself.”
Bilger, who also is a key sprinter for the Cougars, compared competing at district to participating in the junior high state meet in eighth grade at Pleasant View Middle School. He competed in the 400-meter and 800 relays at state.
Bilger was Westland’s first regional qualifier since 2016 when Ivan Suazo finished second in the 110 hurdles in 14.7 seconds to advance to state, where he placed fifth in a program-record 14.4.
Also at district, which concluded May 22, Zane Gibbs-Aguon finished eighth in the 100 (11.27) and 200 (22.88) and Bilger, Gibbs-Aguon, Patricio Rebollar and Samaje Westmoreland placed eighth in the 400 relay (44.51) to account for the Cougars’ other points.
Westland finished 13th (8) behind champion Pickerington North (121) as 15 teams scored.
Kiera Bonds led the girls team in the district 2 meet by finishing sixth in the long jump (16-3 3/4) and eighth in the 100 (12.92).
The Cougars finished 12th (4) behind champion Gahanna (153.83) as 14 teams scored.
Baseball coach Brent Shannon called earning the program’s first postseason win since 2011 a highlight of the season.
The 37th-seeded Cougars defeated 34th-seeded Briggs 4-3 in eight innings in the first round of the Division I district tournament May 17. They beat Columbus West 2-1 in the opening round in 2011.
Westland lost at fifth-seeded Olentangy Liberty 10-0 in five innings in the second round May 19 to finish 9-19 overall.
“I enjoyed being around them,” Shannon said. “They really accepted me as a coach and they’re the reason why we won the most games in 16 years and won our first tournament game in 10 years. The (guys) returning need to get better, but in the end, we have to celebrate the (six) seniors who did all that for us.”
Senior Drew Curtiss (C) hit .361 with a team-high 16 RBI.
Freshman Sam Schneider (2B/P) hit .345, and junior Franklin Ramirez Lara (SS/3B/P) hit .337. Ramirez Lara added six doubles, five triples and 12 RBI.
Senior Brenden Gordon (3B/P) had 14 RBI, senior Brayan Perez Saldivar (1B/OF) had 12 RBI, junior Brady Gray (INF/P) had 11 RBI and junior Robert Chadwick (OF/INF/P) had 10 RBI.
On the mound, Gordon led the Cougars in wins at 4-9. He had a 4.17 ERA with a program-record 66 strikeouts and 48 walks in 55 1/3 innings.
Ramirez Lara was second-team all-OCC-Ohio Division, Gordon was special mention all-league and Curtiss and Schneider were honorable mention all-league.
Others eligible to return are junior Blake Schoonover (1B/OF) and sophomores Dillon Brock (INF/P) and Dean Curtiss (OF).
“We have to continue to play year-round, play in the summer, play in the fall and train,” Shannon said. “We played really well at times, played really bad, but in the end, we were playing our best baseball, which is all I can ask.”
The Cougars went 0-15 in the OCC-Ohio to finish sixth behind champion Grove City (11-4). The league had Grove City, Gahanna, New Albany, Pickerington North and Westerville Central advance to at least district semifinals.
•Record: 9-19 overall
•OCC-Ohio standings: Grove City (11-4), New Albany (10-5), Gahanna, Pickerington North and Westerville Central (8-7), Westland (0-15)
•Seniors lost: Chase Alexander, Jason Cooper, Drew Curtiss, Brenden Gordon, Cameron Mullins and Brayan Perez Saldivar
•Key returnees: Brady Gray, Franklin Ramirez Lara and Sam Schneider
•Postseason: Defeated Briggs 4-3 (8 innings); lost to Olentangy Liberty 10-0 (5 innings) in second round of Division I district tournament