By Mike Deak
SYRACUSE – It’s not every day that a team with 13 losses on its ledger could fit in a top five of a yearly awards countdown.
It’s also not every day that a 13-loss Wawasee baseball side wins a postseason tournament.
The Warriors played some of its best baseball down the stretch, and parlayed that into a historical conclusion to its 2021 season. After the team rattled off four wins to start its season, a six-game slide brought the Warriors back down to earth. And while Wawasee would finish just 8-6 in the Northern Lakes Conference standings, it would have plenty of say in how the league played out.
Wawasee claimed two wins over Northridge, the Raiders smitten with the two losses as it fell a game short of NorthWood for the title. The first was a 12-2 rout of the Raiders that not only ended the six-game losing streak, but sent ripples through the conference. A little over three weeks later on May 13, Wawasee edged the Raiders 1-0 in 12 innings, again sending shockwaves through the conference as Northridge had held a game advantage atop the standings.
Wawasee’s win over Concord on May 19 left the team sitting third in the NLC standings at the time, later joined by Warsaw as Ridge at 10-4 saw NorthWood win the title on the last day and finish 11-3.
While all the gesturing didn’t produce any titles, it did lay a foundation that the Warriors could play with anyone. And that came into play in a sound 8-1 win over Lakeland in the sectional opener, a redemption piece after Lakeland rallied to frustrate Wawasee a few days prior in a shootout loss.
A 5-3 win over Jimtown in the sectional semis saw Wawasee not only pitch well, but play solid defense including a clutch play at the plate tag by catcher Parker Young to end a late Jimtown rally. As fate would have it, there saw NorthWood in the championship, a team that had won seven of the past nine sectional titles. Wawasee hadn’t made a regional since 1997 and its luck against the Panthers in recent vintage hadn’t been very good.
On comes the storyline.
NorthWood committed unconventional mistake after unconventional error as Wawasee built a 3-0 lead, the Warriors holding on for a 3-2 win behind some brilliant pitching from Grant Brooks.
Wawasee’s seventh-ever sectional title was sweet, coming on its home field in what would be Brent Doty’s final home game as head coach. The soon-to-be full-time athletic director in the fall would leave his coaching post once Wawasee was done, but there was more baseball to be played.
The Warriors looked all the part of the Cinderella story, having knocked off the perennial state power Panthers in the sectional, then having to take on two-time state champion Norwell in the semi-finals of the Bellmont Regional. A stunning 2-0 lead by Wawasee left some ground for Norwell to chip away and eventually tie up the contest, only for extra innings to have Norwell drop a five-spot in the eighth to take command of the game and knock out the Warriors.
The trio of Brooks, Kam Salazar and Parker Young all hit over .400 and had OBPs over .500, Brooks leading the team with a .458 batting overage and Salazar with a .564 OBP. Brooks drove in 40 runs and scored 33, Salazar came home 50 times and added seven triples, and Young drove in 35.
The Brooks brothers, Grant and Ty, started 16 games and had ERAs of 2.07 and 2.10, respectively, and combined to strike out 105 batters, the two brilliant down the stretch of the season. Salazar added four wins in 40-plus innings on the hill.
The postseason awards are still filing in, but thus far Salazar is just the third North-South All-Star for the program since 1993, and is also an IBCA Region I Player of the Year. Salazar, Grant Brooks and Young were also named All-NLC First Team and both Ty Brooks and Colt Dolsen were named Honorable Mention All-NLC.
For a team that should have been crushed by the loss of 13 seniors from a 2020 squad that never played an inning due to COVID, Wawasee started the season with just three players (Salazar, Young, Grant Brooks) that had any varsity experience whatsoever. It will return five from its regional lineup in 2022, along with a strong JV farm system that produced 12 wins and a number of role players for the Warriors during the regular season.