The team is looking forward to an excellent season next year.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
DAYTON -- As sad as Champion senior Drew Szepietowski was following Thursday's Division III state semifinal baseball loss to Frankfort Adena, he did have one thing to look forward to.
"I'm looking forward to watching every Champion baseball game next year," said Szepietowski, who will attend YSU next year, although not as a baseball player. "We're losing four seniors, but there are a lot of leaders on this team coming back."
Szepietowski, along with seniors Chris Palm, Alan Stevens and Jake Gross, is leaving behind a Flashes team on the upswing.
Champion may have been making its second state tournament appearance, but the future is bright.
"We've got a taste of it and hopefully we can get here next year," Flashes coach Tim Cope said. "We had some great senior leadership this year, but now our players know what it takes to get to this level."
Junior pitcher Mark Jackson, who went the distance in Thursday's game, will return as the team's ace, joining five other starters: juniors Anthony Maruca, Caleb Pagley, Matt Popadak, Chad Kinkead and Brett Sulonen.
"We've got a good team and a lot of juniors," Jackson said. "The future looks pretty good."
History repeats itself
And history is on their side. An area team has advanced to the state tournament in seven of the last eight years, although no one has won it since Ursuline captured the Division III state title in 2000.
Champion's only other state tournament appearance came in 1971, when the Flashes lost in the state semifinals.
"Champion has always had a great program," Gross said. "I remember two years ago, when I was a sophomore, we went 17-5, which was a great season.
"We've got 11 or 12 freshmen coming in, so hopefully they'll step in as sophomores and help get this team back."
Of course, the future shouldn't overshadow the present. The Flashes (24-5) won league, district and regional titles and were just a break or two away from playing for a state title on Saturday.
Also, Champion was one of four Division III teams (out of 105) still playing on Thursday.
"I don't know that a lot of people expected us to do what we did this year," said Cope, who has gone 51-18 in three years at Champion. "We won our league and our district, which was two of our goals. Then we got out of the regional and into the Final Four.
"We accomplished a lot of our goals and we went further than any Champion team in a long time. And I want to thank these players for all that they did. It's been a great year."