By JOE SCALZO
Vindicator sports staff
The best notes, quotes & anecdotes
One of the events that made me realize I’m a super-cool person — and the fact that my desk features both a green-haired troll holding a sign that reads “World’s Best Grandpa” AND a picture of a water skiing squirrel is all the evidence I need — happened last June when I was sitting ringside for Kelly Pavlik’s first title defense and thinking, “I can’t believe I had to miss the state track and field meet today.”
Keep in mind that, earlier that day, I swam in the ocean (in water cold enough to sterilize a water buffalo, but still ...) while a 64-year-old man with diabetes (my co-worker, Pete Mollica) was in Columbus sweating out a 12-hour shift in 95-degree heat.
(Pavlik, meanwhile, made $2.5 million for five minutes of work, giving me plenty of time to insert a Thomas Hobbes quote in my fight story and help justify the $1,000 I dropped on my philosophy course at Malone College.)
See, unlike most people in my profession, I love track. The state meet is my favorite assignment of the year. It has some drawbacks — I get a farmer’s tan that renders my white undershirt redundant, I’m forced to admit there are female pole vaulters with bigger biceps than mine and my Mario Kart Wii skills grow unspeakably rusty — but I get to see many of the area’s best athletes compete at the highest level. And if they win a state title, I’m the first person they talk to. Not a bad deal.
(I also get to eat City Barbecue beef brisket on the Vindy’s dime, although I was a little miffed that my fruit salad contained 98 percent of the world’s supply of honeydew melon, the fruit equivalent of wet styrofoam.)
Here are my highlights from that meet and the rest of the spring sports season. (My apologies for not making fun of any track officials.)
Five favorite athletes to watch
Lakeview senior sprinter Ben Moody (who won state titles in the 110-meter hurdles and the 100 dash in a 10-minute span, one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in this job), McDonald senior distance runner Lance Ronghi (seriously, does anyone get more out of his talent than this kid?), Crestview senior high jumper Jakob Leon (who came within a hair of jumping 7 feet at the state meet) and Poland freshman softball pitcher Erin Gabriel (see below).
Five athletes I wish I’d covered
Springfield senior pitcher Todd Kibby, Fitch senior catcher Jason Bagoly, Ursuline junior pitcher Casey Lower (aka “The Mask”), Boardman senior tennis player Robert Salcedo and Boardman sophomore pitcher Alex DiDomenico.
Five best athletes to interview
Jackson-Milton senior runner Samantha Hamilton (Step One, turn on the tape recorder; Step Two, stop her when she reaches five minutes; Step Three, say thank you) … West Branch junior hurdler Taylor Kring (who is due for a little good luck next year after missing the state meet due to injury) … Boardman senior thrower Corey Linsley (who is extremely friendly until about five seconds before he throws, when he turns into a mad man) … Mooney senior sprinter Matt McWilson (who overcame a hamstring injury to win a state title in the 4x100 relay) … and Howland senior hurdler Nicole Pachol, who is a Hall of Famer in this category.
In the Poland softball team’s district final against Ashtabula Edgewood, Gabriel struck out 25 batters, walked one and pitched a three-hit shutout over 15 innings as the Bulldogs won 2-0. Around the 12th inning, Poland coach Reid Lamport looked over at me and said, “Hey, don’t blame me, I told them to score several innings ago.”
The way Gabriel was pitching, the Bulldogs could have waited another 12 innings to score.
From the “It makes me proud to be in this profession” department, I overheard a reporter ask an athlete at this year’s state track meet: “What are your brief thoughts about winning a state title?”
Yeah, kid. Don’t talk too much. We’re busy.
A Sandusky Perkins track fan was wearing a team shirt that read, “To give anything less is to scarifice the gift.”
Best senior class
With 12 state titles and nine runners-up, this year’s state track meet had the most impressive collection of area talent in my eight years here. But the Valley’s baseball senior class was even better, with seven players earning Division I scholarships, including Fitch senior catcher Jason Bagoly (Kent State) getting drafted in the 40th round by the Colorado Rockies.
The others are Canfield outfielder/pitcher Jared Turocy (Akron), Kibby (Bowling Green), Poland infielder Matt Pitzulo (Bowling Green), Badger pitcher/outfielder Marcus Heath (Cincinnati), Boardman pitcher Patrick O’Brien (Bowling Green) and Mooney outfielder Drew Fitzpatrick (Louisville).
And, finally, the five quotes I loved the most.
UArea track official Ron Scott, on April’s cold and rainy Cope Invitational in Salem: “Hundreds of years ago the Quakers burned witches at the stake and now they’re getting back at them with this weather.”
UUrsuline softball coach Mike Kernan, on pitching coach Mike Dahringer: “The fact that [assistant coach] Barb [Balestrino] and I know nothing about fast-pitch pitching and technique, I’d say he’s a pretty big asset.”
UUrsuline senior Rebecca Hartz, on Lower, who wears headgear while pitching: “Everybody fears ‘The Mask.’” Asked what it’s like step in the batter’s box against “The Mask” in practice, Hartz replied: “No, we don’t do that any more.”
UCrestview track coach John Bloor, to Leon as a group of reporters prepared to interview him after winning a state title:
“Say something this time, OK?”
(Leon is not a chatty guy.)
UMoody, on winning two state titles and leading Lakeview to a runner-up finish: “For me, it was a helluva end to my senior year. Pardon my language, but that’s the only way I can say it. It was fun. It was pure fun every week, every practice. I mean, there was never any fighting and I don’t think there was one time when we stopped laughing.”
X Joe Scalzo covers high school sports for The Vindicator. Write him at email@example.com.