NEWARK – The spring finished so well for Newark the last thing Josh Gant wanted to do was quit playing baseball.
So, Gant and teammates Tyler Osborne and Jesse Holmes kept playing. They are together on Utica Post 92 as the American Legion district tournament nears.
“To know that you are still playing with the same guys as you are on your school ball team, it keeps the fire going, I guess,” Gant said. “First, it was: ‘We are the lower guys playing with the big seniors, the real starters.’ Everything started changing when we started playing together as a team. We started growing a bigger bond, and we just kept going uphill, uphill and uphill.”
The trio will be seniors next season at Newark, and if the Wildcats can pick up where they left off, it should be a profitable 2016.
Newark endured through a difficult Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division schedule and proved to be better for it. The Wildcats upset higher seeds Olentangy Orange and Marysville before falling in the Division I district finals to eventual state runner-up Westerville Central.
“It gives us a lot of confidence because we played a team — Westerville Central — that went all the way to the state,” Osborne said. “None of these teams we play are better than that. We can easily play to anybody’s talent. The teams that we played in the tournament, we know we can hang with any team.”
The Wildcats are hoping to provide that same postseason magic to Post 92, which opened play in the Cambridge July 4 tournament with a doubleheader Thursday.
Osborne has been one of Utica’s top hitters while playing a strong shortstop. Osborne also is hoping time on the mound for he and Holmes will prepare them for starting assignments for the Wildcats, who graduated their top four pitchers, next spring.
“I am trying to get my pitching back on track,” said Osborne, who threw just 21/3 innings for Newark this season. “Next year, we have to find out who are going to be our pitchers because we lost (Trevor Mye). He was our ace.”
Utica begins play in the four-team district tournament July 11 at Prospect. The summer has been a learning experience with just one graduated player — Granville’s Ryan Blessard — but Utica has not been without big wins, including rallies past Pickerington Post 283 and Lancaster Post 11.
“We were kind of having a little bit of a struggle, but we finally found that spark (against Lancaster),” Gant said. “We came together as a team, battled and won the game. We played our hearts out.”
Gant is catching for Post 92 this summer, and he has continued to show the powerful bat he did during the stretch run for Newark. He doubled and later hit an extra-inning RBI single in the postseason victory against Marysville, pushing his average to .292.
The only thing standing in Utica’s way has been the weather. Post 92 had played less than a dozen games entering Thursday, but this weekend could get the ball rolling toward a big finish.
“You want to play this whole time, so obviously, you are ready to play,” Gant said. “You are going to be ready to win, too. You don’t want to sit around and relax. We are going to want to win.”
POST 92 ROSTER
Camden Groves, Heath
Nathan Smith, Sheridan
Cole Maxwell, Utica
Peyton Snow, Utica
Stephen Green, Utica
Hunter Adams, Utica
Caine Whitney, Newark Catholic
Austin Kent, Newark Catholic
Ryan Blessard, Granville
Zach Blumling, Granville
Ethan Chalfant, Northridge
Tyler Osborne, Newark
Josh Gant, Newark
Jesse Holmes, Newark