HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL It's a family affair at Western Reserve
Three cousins areplaying key roles inthe success of the Blue Devils this year.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
BERLIN CENTER -- One is an outfielder who overcame a horrific wrist injury.
One is a 135-pound catcher who compares himself to a "sniper in the bushes."
The other is a steady pitcher whose coach has so much confidence in him that oftentimes he faces the opposition's best.
They each have a story or skill that sets them apart. Yet, they are tied together by a common bond.
Ben Martin, Andrew Lenhart and Jason Young are cousins. They are also senior leaders of the Western Reserve High baseball team.
"We were pretty close just growing up here," Young said. "Now, if one of us is doing something wrong [on the field], it's a lot easier for us to tell each other."
With their 15-6 record, the Blue Devils have surpassed the program's previous high for wins in a season (13) and are hoping to make an impact in the Division IV tournament. They play host to Mogadore in a sectional game Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
"There's a drive to win that we haven't really had before," Martin said. "We know we have the potential and we can do it."
Most of the team's success comes from this group of close cousins who live only miles apart and have grown accustomed to their leadership role.
"We go as those three guys go," Western Reserve coach Paul Henderson said.
Sacrificing his body
Take Martin, the outspoken outfielder and leadoff hitter, who still recalls the pain of his freshman season, the bittersweet moment of playing on the varsity team but having it ruined by a painful injury.
He had been playing well in scrimmages and could hardly contain his excitement for the upcoming season.
Yet, at the season's outset, when he tracked down a long fly ball into foul territory and made a stunning catch, he knew something was wrong.
"The second baseman ran out and said, 'Nice catch, Ben,' " Martin recalled. "Then he looked at my wrist and almost lost it."
In his attempt to catch the ball, Martin broke the wrist. But as Henderson recalls, Martin instinctively used his other arm to hold up the broken wrist and show the umpire he had made the catch.
"As a team, you see that and think, 'How can I be a slacker?' " Henderson said.
Martin, who recovered in time for the tournament, said, "It was just so heartbreaking. No pain killers for four hours. It was excruciating."
Lenhart weighs 135 pounds. He is also the Blue Devils' catcher, who carries an accurate arm and compares himself to a "sniper in the bushes."
"He's as quick as a cat behind the plate," Henderson said.
Martin said, "We're one of the smallest teams you'll ever see play, but we just play hard and together."
Lenhart is a weapon, Henderson said, because most baserunners don't even try to steal on him.
"When they don't run on us, I know why," Henderson said.
Because of a catcher who weights 135?
"There's no doubt in my mind that's the smallest catcher in the league," Henderson said. "There's no doubt in my mind that's the best catcher in the league."
Young moved into the Blue Devils' starting rotation as a sophomore and has been there since, providing leadership and depth.
"He has always been our No. 1 or 2 pitcher," Henderson said. "His ERA or record doesn't always look so great, but that's because I save him to pitch against tougher teams."
Young (2-3, 5.00 ERA), who also plays in the outfield, proved early that he was mature enough to handle the responsibilities of a varsity player.
Not only was he relied upon as a pitcher, but he also led the team in batting average (around .350) as a sophomore. It was then that Henderson knew he had a good one.
Of the 12 players on the varsity roster, four have family ties -- Martin, Lenhart, Young and Lenhart's young brother, Stephen. Young's younger brother, Adam, is on the junior varsity team.
Western Reserve hopes to rely on that closeness this week as the tournament begins.
"We've only been to a district game once," Henderson said. "If we're looking for this group to be the best that has been here, we'll have to do that again."