With just a week left in the regular season, the Boardman baseball team has taken control of the Federal League.
On the eve of the start of a home-in-home series with Canton McKinley, the Spartans somewhat surprisingly stood 8-1 in the ultra-competitive conference and in first place by one full game. The team Boardman is beating by that slim margin in the Federal is Massillon Jackson who split two games with the Spartans recently. Although Jackson has more games left on their league slate than the Spartans do, Boardman head coach Bob Beam realized his team just needs to take care of their own business to finish on top.
"We control our own destiny," said Beam the day before the first match with McKinley. "We still have two games with McKinley and have to finish a (suspended) game with Lake so we'll be busy heading into the (state) tournament."
That busy schedule also included state contender Lakewood St. Edward's on May 7 so the Spartans will be greatly prepared to partake in the Division I playoffs. Having such a grueling set of games both inside and outside of the league hasn't slowed down the Spartans who have 14 wins total. Thanks to that incredible agenda, the Spartans have been selected the No. 1 seed for the upcoming tournament. That lofty seeding comes with a first round bye so Boardman has equally lofty aspirations for the pending playoffs. Boardman doesn't have to play a tournament game until May 10 against the winner of the game between Ashtabula Lakeside and Warren Harding. Neither of those two teams is considered terrific threats to ending the Spartans' season earlier than expected. That is why coach Beam is very thankful for playing so many challenging teams throughout this season.
"Our schedule has been brutal, but has helped us big time," Beam admitted.
Another thing that's been brutal is the way Boardman has beaten up the rest of their Federal brothers. The 6-3 win over Jackson on May 1 was the Polar Bears' first Federal defeat of the season and it was made possible because of Boardman's beautiful pitching. Senior Troy Parks pulled the teeth out of the Polar Bears' offense by allowing just four hits in a complete game shutout. He also struck out six to up his season record to 6-0.
"(Parks) has been leading the way for us all season," bragged Beam.
When Parks has been in need of some rest, Beam has turned the ball over to fellow senior starter Dan Watkins. Watkins was cruising along all season until suffering the loss in the road end of the home-in-home with Jackson on May 3. Still, the senior has been stellar slinging the ball.
"(Watkins) has stepped up for us," said Beam. "It's impressive that his first loss didn't come until the first week of May."
Left-handed junior Mike Witte is another thrower Beam has called upon and he has done his part in keeping Parks and Watkins from tossing too many innings. Coach Beam needs all he can get from those hurlers because the Spartans are pretty thin behind that trio.
"What we are doing on the mound with limited depth has been impressive," explained Beam. "We lost one pitcher (Jake Stauffer) to injury and had to remove one pitcher from the team for breaking team rules. The lack of depth on the mound is a concern."
Thankfully, coach Beam need not concern himself with his team's offense. The Spartans are hitting well over .300 as a team this year and have gotten contributions throughout the lineup. Two seniors who have been swinging a super bat are catcher Dan Popio and outfielder Nate Knaus. Popio went two-for-two with a pair of RBIs in the win over Jackson to move his average to .458 for the year. Knaus has been knocking the ball around at a .391 clip and clubbed a triple in that May 1 win. Those performances have allowed Beam to sleep comfortably at night.
"The offense has been our biggest positive," said the coach excitedly. "We are hitting so well as a team."
If the Spartans can continue that incredible hitting well into the state playoffs, there may be a lot more positive events awaiting Boardman in the near future.