As their year came to an end, the Lake Center Christian Tigers digested a 3-1 district final loss as head coach Shane Byler delivered a message about how this season was about more than just a few weeks of games and practices.
HARTVILLE As their year came to an end, the Lake Center Christian Tigers digested a 3-1 district final loss as head coach Shane Byler delivered a message about how this season was about more than just a few weeks of games and practices.
“What I told the guys after the game is just that we’ve been talking about this for a number of years getting to this point,” Byler said. “It became real to us this year and we got to taste it, so I think our guys are going to be as excited as ever to get back to it (in the future).”
The postseason was full of drama and close games for LCC, so its loss to Cuyahoga Heights in the district final was merely the last of three straight close contests that tested the Tigers for more than a week. After a first-round bye, they faced Columbia Station in a sectional final and got a 16-strikeout, complete game shutout from senior ace James Kontur to move on to the district semifinals. Six days later, Kontur was back on the mound and authored another shutout as LCC knocked off top seed Dalton 5-0 in a game that was close throughout.
Starting Kontur in the district semifinal with the district final the following day may raise an eyebrow or two, but Byler relied on wisdom from two coaches for whom he played in high school and college when making the call to use his ace in the semifinals, knowing that meant Kontur would not be available in the final.
“I learned from two coaches, my coach in high school here, Mark Kramer, who took two differnet schools to six district championships, and my college coach at Malone, Tom Krank, that in order to get there, you have to get there, meaning that you have to win first one to get to the second,” Byler said.
Having been part of the last LCC team to reach the district final in 2009, Byler has a unique perspective on what the accomplishment means for the program. He cited “a sense of pride in the program” in terms of the work needed to return LCC to the level it played at this season, remaining in the Portage Trail Conference race until the last day of the season and going 15-10 with a district final appearance.
In the end, the Tigers simply couldn’t muster enough offense to move on, but not having Kontur on the mound wasn’t the deciding factor in the district final.
“David Underation and Andy Armstrong pitched well enough for us to win game, but our defense tightened up as the game went on and there was just a lack of offensive power,” Byler said. “We didn’t have a hit until the sixth inning, which is when our bats started to wake up and we started to put some good at bats together. We bases loaded with one out in the sixth, but we couldn’t come up with that big hit.”
The team that took the field against Cuyahoga Heights offered a glimpse at how the Tigers may look next season, as a lineup that routinely started three juniors, three sophomores and a freshman could return intact and give LCC a strong foundation from which to build.
Despite the disappointment of seeing their postseason dreams dashed in Medina, the Tigers were able to muster smiles as they received their district runner-up trophy and medals and posed for one final team photo before they headed into their offseason.
It was the culmination of a long journey in some ways and the start of the next chapter in that trek for many of them and keeping all of that in perspective is part of the process for a team that reached several milestones this season.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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