The Howland boys varsity baseball team finished the season 13-13 overall and 2-6 in the All American Conference Red Division. Although the Tigers did not accomplish all of their goals this season, there were many bright spots to look back on.
The Tigers started the season with two big wins over Salem and Hubbard, outscoring the opposition 22-3.
The team then headed south to the sand and sun of Myrtle Beach to play in the Mingo Bay Classic. The Tigers took sixth place out of 31 teams.
"It was truly a very rewarding experience for the kids," Tigers coach Rob Thompson. "It takes some hard work and a lot of help, but it is an experience those boys will always remember. I highly recommend it to all of the area coaches to think about."
Upon returning home, the Tigers, suffering from bus lag, lost five of their next seven games. But, they turned the tables and went on to win the next six out of eight, with a key come-from-behind win against Niles on a rain soaked day.
In the tournament, the Tigers made short work of Crestwood in the sectional semifinal game, racking up eight runs in the first inning, before going on to win 11-1. The next night was a dogfight against Hubbard that resulted in a 3-2 loss in nine innings against the Eagles.
"That game was the hardest fought game I saw all season," Thompson said. "Both teams played extremely well. Neither one deserved to lose that night. Unfortunately, we did."
Although out of the tournament, the Tigers still had unfinished business to attend to. The Tigers had to play Poland two nights later, which resulted in a lopsided loss and put the Tigers back to a 12-13 record. The season finale against Beaver Local would be a different story, however. The Tigers won 9-2, finishing the season at 13-13. A key highlight to the game was senior Andy Zigmont winning his 14th career game on the mound, tying the school record.
"Had we played a little better behind him in some of the games he pitched, he would have been pitching for the record, not just to tie it," Thompson said. "It is still quite an accomplishment."
Many Tigers won individual awards for their outstanding play. Earning first team All-American Conference honors were juniors Matt Preston and Joey Aulizia. Senior Jared Kirin made honorable mention. Many other Tigers also won individual team awards.
Kirin won the Most Improved Award. Zigmont won the Coaches Award. The Tiger (Leadership) Award went to Justin Suddeth. The Steve Peterson Award, given to baseball players who show excellence in community service, scholarship, and athletics went to Aaron Razum.
Winning the team Most Valuable Player Award for the second straight year was junior Matt Preston who hit .481 for the season with 38 hits, 33 RBI's, five doubles, six home runs, a .532 on base percentage, and a .797 slugging percentage. Defensively Matt played every game for the Tigers at first base, finishing the year with a .975 fielding percentage, committing only four errors in 159 total chances.
The Tigers graduate five seniors, Aaron Razum, Sean Hammonds, Zigmont, Kirin and Suddeth.
"We will miss them dearly," Thompson said. "Andy and Jared pitched half of our total innings this year. Justin was an absolute work-horse behind the plate and Aaron and Sean played very well in the outfield for us. Those guys have been with the program longer than I have. It will be different for me to look on the field next year and not see them."
Zigmont and Suddeth will continue their baseball careers in college. Zigmont will play at Lake Erie College, while Suddeth will play both football and baseball at Heidelberg College.
"We will alaways miss the seniors, but they are gone and cannot help us anymore," Thompson said. "We have a lot of promising talent coming back. Next year should be another solid year. Much of our success will depend on how hard the kids work in the summer and fall before the state allows me to work with them again. I am excited to get back to work with them, but they have a lot of games to play, clinics to go to, and conditioning before I am able to do anything with them again."
Next year, the Tigers will bump up to Division 1.
"It is a challenge for us, but I think we will be alright," Thompson said.