STEUBENVILLE - There was no storybook ending for the Buckeye Local baseball team, but second-year coach Rick DeLuca believes his Panthers are heading in the right direction.
"We improved a lot," DeLuca said after Buckeye fell to Big Red in the Division II East sectional upper bracket finals at Vacarro Field Saturday. "We got to play a lot of young kids this season. The kids worked hard, hung together and stayed together. They're good kids."
During his first season as the Buckeye boss, DeLuca guided his squad to a 12-14 campaign, during which the Panthers advanced to the OVAC semifinals for the first time in a decade. The 2014 club finished at 13-12.
Steubenville Big Red’s Branden Jones slips past the tag of Buckeye Local catcher Derek Sebring to score in Saturday’s 14-3 victory over the Panthers in a sectional tournament co-final at Vaccaro Field.
-- Mike Mathison
"This is the first winning season in a long time at Buckeye," DeLuca noted. "It's unfortunate but winning seasons have been a little rare at our school.
"I was very fortunate to have a very talented group of players back this year and a very good group of veteran players that took a leadership role with no questions asked."
Seven of the players on the Buckeye roster - Eric Williams, Josh Figurski, Jonathan Borkoski, Derek Sebring, Chase Hopkins, Dominic Rose and Zach Kaiser - were seniors.
"They're all good kids who took care of things when I wasn't around," DeLuca noted. "I didn't have to worry about them and I'm very proud of them. I hate to see them go and we definitely will miss them next year. They're great kids and I love every one of them."
Three of the seniors (Hopkins, Williams and Borkoski) gave Buckeye Local "a very sound pitching rotation."
"Those three were very good pitchers," DeLuca continued. "They are outstanding players who have played a lot. All of our seniors contributed and they all played."
DeLuca pointed out Sebring returned to the roster this season for the first time since his freshman year.
"He came out this year and became our starting catcher," DeLuca said. "Our starting catcher from last season didn't come out so when Derek came along, that all worked out pretty well."
Kaiser didn't see a lot of playing time but still contributed to Buckeye's success.
"He has a lot of other interests and he is going to make it somewhere else," DeLuca stated.
Figurski, the Panther first baseman, "really developed very well," his coach commented. Rose, in his fourth season on the Buckeye roster, started at third base.
In Saturday's loss, Borkoski and junior Eric Banal had two singles to pace the Buckeye offensive attack. Another junior, Brandon Panepucci delivered a run-scoring double and Williams drove home two with his base knock. Figurski had the other Panther hit.
""We started making mistakes early," DeLuca said when looking back at the defeat. "We could have got out of the first inning (Big Red plated four runs after two were out) with no problem, but we made three mistakes and from there, it just mushroomed.
"When you play a good team like Big Red, you can't give them anything. We gave them a lot and they took advantage of it."