Bombers win third OVL ChampionshipAugust 7, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
HUNTINGBURG - Given the way the Dubois County Bombers finished the regular season, it would've been understandable if someone found it hard to imagine the team would win their third Ohio Valley League Championship, let alone sweep their way through the OVL Playoffs.
But that was exactly what happened Saturday night when the Bombers (32-18) turned in a wire-to-wire, 6-1 victory in front of their home fans in front of a rocking League Stadium. When Jackson Hannon had a hard liner to second baseman Tucker Schank playing towards first base, Schank quickly fired to Bombers first baseman Mason White to double off Travis Reaves and clinch the championship in the top of the ninth.
Players poured out of the dugout, their teammates on the field rushed to join them and they dogpiled in front of the pitcher's mound as fireworks went off.
For the likes of Schank, Weston Allen and Conner Oxley, they watched other teams celebrate at their expense at Victory Field as they took home red medals as state runner-ups at Southridge. But on this night, all three received victory medals for finally winning a baseball championship.
"I got a little bit emotional, honestly, (for the) last out," Schank said. "Because I didn't know. It might be my last inning ever played on this field, I've spent a lot of years here. You never know what the future's going to hold. So, if that's the case, I wanted to give it my all for my last time at League Stadium."
"It's awesome, especially fans in the stands that I know have been watching," Allen said. "They've been at the games since I was a freshman in high school, and playing with some of my old high school teammates and getting to meet all these new friends that I didn't know before. Honestly, it is going to be sad seeing them all go, but it was an awesome summer and I'm glad we could get it done."
"Southridge taught me a lot about how to win," Oxley said. "You get out here in front of the same crowds every so often with the Bombers as well whenever we have home games. And it just means a lot to play in front of the same people, and succeed."
Turning it all around
Other members of the team weren't quite as new to championship celebrations. There's Bombers coach Travis LaMar, who won a state championship in June as the pitching coach for Southridge, and Chase Taylor, the starting catcher who helped the Raiders go all the way in Class 3A. This was their second crown in the last month-and-a-half, with Taylor winning a championship with some of his former high school teammates.
"I think that's a testament to our coaching at Southridge and the culture at Southridge," Taylor said. "It's expected out of you to do your best, and when you do your best, outcomes like this happen."
They and the rest of the Bombers dealt with some setbacks during the year. The team led the OVL's North Division almost the entire way through the season before the Henderson Flash overtook them at the end of the year. They also lost five of their final seven regular season games, including an 18-8 loss to the Fulton Railroaders in the penultimate game, and an 8-4 loss to the Muhlenberg County Stallions in the July 27 finale.
Yet, they turned the corner to reel off six wins in a row for Saturday night to happen.
"I think they bought in," LaMar said. "I think they kind of understand kind of what we were here for and what our ultimate goal was, and they took it upon themselves to really kind of take ownership of how this season was going to end. Hats off to them - they took care of business."
"I think we just shifted our mindset into being great teammates and being super-supportive of one another and just playing as hard as we could," Schank said. "And that's really all we did. We took care of the very controllable things - and that's playing hard and playing together. And that's really all it took."
The pitching for the Bombers did not allow more than three runs in any playoff game this season, and Tyler Wheeler put the bow on all of that Saturday evening when he overcame some jitters in the early innings to turn in the complete game win performance.
Wheeler allowed one run while striking out four and walking one player on 116 pitches as he was on the mound when it happened.
"Early in the game, I didn't get ahead in the count at all, I was behind every hitter," Wheeler said. "And my goal was just to have them get themselves out. I was just going to throw strikes and hopefully put it in play because I had a good defense behind me."
Wheeler was slated to be part of the 2020 Bombers before the COVID-19 pandemic shut it all down, but for him, it was worth the wait.
"He's been throwing the ball well all year," LaMar said. "It was one of those where I wasn't going to be able to just get the ball from him. If I was going to get him out of there, I was going to have to take it from him. And I love his competitive nature. He comes from a great baseball family and he comes from a great baseball school. It was just a great performance on his part. He did exactly what we needed, it was one of those where I wasn't going to take it away from him unless I absolutely had to."
To get to this, the Bombers not only had to settle the score with the Flash in the North Division Championship round, but also in the finals against a Rhythm team that had the best record in the OVL this season, and a team the Bombers went 1-3 against this year.
They took a 14-2 loss to the Rhythm on July 4, and afterward, LaMar told The Herald the Rhythm were the team to beat and this was the team he wanted to be playing at this time. He said on Saturday it was a learning experience, and he thought the team put together a good scouting report.
LaMar let it be known that if the pitching is on and if the batters have a good approach at the plate, that it doesn't matter who the opponent is.
Been there before
He had a lot to celebrate this summer, but his assistant, Willie Poe, is all too familiar with what this is like. Poe was a player when the Bombers won the OVL Championship in both 2015 and 2017, and now, he's got one as an assistant coach for the team he once played for to his credit.
"Doing it twice as a player obviously is a great experience, and then coming back as a coach - you dream to go three-for-three, but I don't know, I'm kind of speechless right now," Poe said.
Poe found it vital to keep the team engaged all summer, as it's a lot with the weather and players getting tired in the middle of July. But the coaches encouraged the players to keep pushing and grinding through all of it.
Bombers owner Mike Uebelhor has been around these championship teams in some capacity before, and he declined to take credit for the success of the team - choosing to credit the coaching staff instead. But he got to see all of it unfold.
"It's just a pleasure to have these players come to Dubois County because we watched them develop throughout the summer," Uebelhor said. "And this team, more than any team that I can remember, did that. From the very beginning to the end, it was a completely different team - and these guys really worked at their trade. And they honestly put the best effort into it when it really counted, and we go into the playoffs and just sweep the playoffs with six wins in a row. It was just truly amazing in my aspect."
Looking ahead, and looking back
These players will now go their separate ways, with each who spoke to The Herald after the big win Saturday having learned something they can use for school ball. Schank felt like he's improved defensively and improved at the plate later on in the year. Meanwhile, Allen saw it beneficial to pitch against different players of different levels, while Taylor thought he had great mentors who helped him with the mental aspect of the game.
Then there's Oxley, who feels this championship will have rubbed off on him as he'll turn his attention back to Oakland City University.
"Being part of this team with good leaders like Tucker Schank and Guy Lipscomb will bring me back to having the winning mentality of wanting to be a leader for Oakland City," he said.
Whatever lies ahead for each and every one of them, they've made the summer of 2021 a memorable one.
"They will be my friends forever now," Lipscomb said.
"This (summer) is going to be a tough one to beat," LaMar said. "This is going one of those years where you got to let it soak in while you got the opportunity, you got to enjoy it. Hopefully, it will give us kind of a platform as we continue moving forward both with Southridge and with the Bombers."
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