Apple Creek aces: Pitchers lead Waynedale to state

Apple Creek aces: Pitchers lead Waynedale to state

Image Credit: Aaron Dorksen

After the Waynedale baseball team graduated Div. III Ohio Player of the Year Jaden Varner last spring, not many people were predicting a run to the State Final Four.

Even the regionals seemed unlikely.

However, the Golden Bears have run off 23 straight wins to earn just the second Final Four trip in program history.

Waynedale (25-4) will take on fourth-ranked Baltimore Liberty Union (24-5) in a state semifinal game at 4 on at Canal Park in Akron on June 9. St. Bernard Roger Bacon (19-7) will face No. 11 Milan Edison (23-8) at 7 that night, with the championship game slated for 1 p.m. on June 11.

The Bears were stopped in a district final last season, highlighted by Varner going 10-0 with a microscopic 0.34 ERA and 146 strikeouts in 61 innings to go along with a team-leading .520 batting average.

How have the Bears gone two levels beyond the district in the 2022 tournament? They turned up a pair of aces, backed up by an extremely balanced lineup.

Waynedale knew that junior Trey Barkman (9-1, 1.68 ERA, 69 Ks, 62 1-3 IP) had the stuff to lead the pitching staff, but an unlikely co-ace emerged in sophomore Otto Solorzano Romero (9-1, 1.17 ERA, 93 Ks, 59 2-3 IP).

The duo has limited postseason opponents Brooklyn, Manchester, Gilmour, Ursuline and Hawken to just eight combined runs.

“Moreso than just their stuff, they've both got great command,” said second-year Waynedale head coach Lucas Daugherty, a former Div. II All-American pitcher at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. “They also both really compete. When the games get tighter and tougher, they seem to pitch even better.”

Solorzano Romero’s arrival at Waynedale is like something out of a baseball movie, but it’s far from fiction. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound lefty lived in Nicaragua until last summer when he was adopted by his uncle and aunt, Nixson and Rhonda Jarquin of Mount Eaton.

“Otto lives in our district and he's here to stay,” Daugherty said. “He's a great kid who works really hard in baseball and in class.

“All the players love him. He loves playing baseball and being here. I have him in my science class and he even loves schoolwork. He's just a great kid with a personality.”

Word started spreading soon after Solorzano Romero moved in with his aunt and uncle that an outstanding baseball player was in the district.

Daugherty heard the talk, but having coached standouts like Varner and Barkman he was understandably a bit skeptical.

“I didn't read into it too much because I didn't want to get too excited if it ended up not being true,” Daugherty said with a smile.

The coach looked forward to meeting Solorzano Romero last summer and, of course, brought his glove to play catch. After just a few throws, he knew the Bears had a great one.

“He's pretty special,” Daugherty said. “He has a great arm and makes it look easy. He’s a lefty who’s got natural movement on everything he throws and he's a strong kid.”

Otto (pronounced OH-toe) lived in Teustepe, a municipality of around 26,000 people in the Boaco Department of Nicaragua. The sophomore is working hard to improve his English and answered questions using a translation app on Daugherty’s phone.

“I feel very happy to be on the team here at Waynedale,” said Solorzano Romero, who played for the Teustepe developmental team. “The guys are very good and have treated me well.”

Barkman throws a little harder, topping out in the mid- to upper 80s with Solorzano Romero in the low to mid-80s.

“Trey has done a great job pitching and also plays first base,” Daugherty said. “His fastball has good movement, too.”

Barkman has been one of the top pitchers in the Waynedale District since youth league and is excited to get the starting assignment for the state semifinal game.

“I've always been the pitcher for our senior and junior class,” Barkman said. “Braden Hershberger (4-1, 2.77 ERA) is a good pitcher, too, and now Otto is here.

“I trust all my teammates and to be on the big stage with them is pretty cool. Making it to state was one of our goals that we wrote down early in the year. A lot of the guys went down to watch the 2016 game (Hiland beat Waynedale 7-1 in the final) and we really wanted to do something like that. And watching the girls basketball team go to state, they set the bar for us.”

The starting lineup of junior second baseman Dylan Raber (.340), senior catcher Josiah Raber (.325), senior right fielder Jay Mast (.344, team-highs 14 doubles, 30 runs), junior third baseman Timmy Short (.270, team-high 25 RBI), junior center fielder Conner Gatti (.364), senior left fielder (Ian Lehman .360), senior shortstop Ean Miller (.364), Barkman (.310) and senior first baseman Hershberger (.246) have all carried the team at times.

“It’s really a very balanced order,” Daugherty said. “We don't depend on one or two guys. It's different guys each night.”

The Bears are expected to face one of the toughest tests ever for an area team against Baltimore Liberty Union, which is led by senior righthander Jacob Miller, who was named the Gatorade Ohio Baseball Player of the Year.

Miller, a 6-1, 185-pounder, is the state’s top-ranked recruit and could be selected in the first few rounds of the upcoming MLB Draft. In district and regional semifinals wins, he’s allowed a combined one hit, struck out 29 batters and his fastball has been clocked between 92-98 mph according to reports.

“We’ll have to shorten our swings some and be on time for it,” Daugherty said.

Liberty Union will have to contend with an ace as well and Solorzano Romero could be used if needed, too.

The Bears have a ton of momentum going and will give it their all.

“I think it takes a special group to make it to state and we were able to do it,” Daugherty said. “It's been kind of surreal, just game after game, competing and winning against tough teams. We've just been able to find ways to win.”

It certainly helps when you can always count on a pair of aces.

Aaron Dorksen can be reached at AaronDorksen24@gmail.com.