MOUNT VERNON — The 2010 high school baseball season was a banner year for many area teams. Two — Fredericktown and Mount Vernon — set school win records, and others showed improvement over their 2009 efforts, including Highland, which improved its record by five wins.
For their efforts, several individual players have been selected to the 2010 Mount Vernon News All-Area team, including Fredericktown’s C.J. Ruhl as Player of the Year and Highland’s Cole Randolph as Pitcher of the Year. Mount Vernon coach Doug Savage also earned the Coach of the Year honors.
Joining Ruhl and Randolph on the First Team were catcher Justin Staton (Highland); infielders Justin Edwards (Mount Vernon), Michael Hedrick (East Knox), Collin Bumpus (Centerburg), and Riley Swanson (Mount Vernon); outfielders Garrett Ulrey (Highland), Joe Metzger (Utica), Matt Smith (Fredericktown) and Robert Kane (Mount Vernon); and closer Brandon Good (East Knox). Earning Honorable Mention nods were Ben Hoar (Mount Vernon); Nate Chilcote (Fredericktown); Derek Beaver (Utica); Alec Curry (Mount Vernon); Dustin Green (Highland); Kody Green (Mount Vernon); Dylan Crawford (Danville); Colton Tucker (East Knox); Ryan Burke (Centerburg); Austin Hoeflich (Fredericktown); and Jeremy Jenkins (Utica).
Ruhl put together on of the best seasons ever by an area player. He batted .667 on the season, racking up 56 hits in 84 at-bats to lead the area in both categories. He also led the area in runs scored (62), doubles (16) and triples (5), and was second in RBI (49). Ruhl also hit seven home runs and stole 17 bases.
“I’ve tried since the season has been over to kind of put his season into perspective, and the sheer numbers are mind-boggling,” said Fredericktown coach Matt Smith. “He started the year 14-for-16, so obviously he got off to a great start. Even as the competition level increased, he didn’t slow down. Baseball is, inherently, a game of failure and he was successfully getting hits in two out of every three at-bats. His on-base percentage was over .740. You just expected him to be on base every time. It was definitely a tremendous season; I don’t know if we can fully grasp how great of a season it was. He was just amazing.”
Ruhl’s ability to hit the baseball isn’t something he learned overnight. He has worked hard in the offseason, crafting his swing and seeing the baseball. He also worked on the mental part of the game, and that resulted in his spectacular senior season.
“He is just a tough out,” Smith said. “He is willing to hit the ball where it is pitched. We talked a lot this year about hitting mistakes — if you get a pitch over the middle of the plate or over the inside part of the plate, then drive it. We also talked about not being afraid to take a single and letting your teammates drive you in. I think the discipline that C.J. displayed at the plate this year was tremendous. He only stuck out three times all year, so he obviously saw the ball real well.
“He took the same approach that the pitcher did toward him. If the pitcher is going to nibble on the outside of the plate, then he would slap it over the third baseman’s head and take a single. Not being selfish was a byproduct of being able to hit .667, because he was willing to take what he was given. He also didn’t miss too many opportunities. When he got pitches to hit, he made sure they counted.”
Ruhl wasn’t just an offensive prodigy, however. He played stellar defense for the Freddies, anchoring the right side of the infield from first base.
“He was the best first baseman in Central Ohio in my opinion,” said Smith. “He made us so much better because our infield didn’t have to worry about throwing the ball in the dirt. They had the utmost confidence in C.J. to dig it out. Ideally, we wanted to play him more in the outfield because that is probably what he’ll play in college, but we just couldn’t afford to defensively. His ability to play defense is what makes him a special player. Obviously, offensively, he is a gifted player, but not for one minute would I overlook his defense.”
The other part of Ruhl’s game is what Smith attributes his team’s success — leadership. Ruhl led by example, setting the tone from Day 1.
“The thing that C.J. has done the entire four years he was in our program is practice hard and play hard,” said Smith. “He has really grown into a great leader, and I think it speaks volumes of a player when they can get other players to come with them, pick up their game and play at a higher level. It is beyond the statistical things he did for us. It is that leadership and heart that he has. There is no doubt that he was the driving force behind the success we had.”
Randolph took charge on and off the mound for Highland. He compiled a 10-1 record during the regular season — an area best for wins — and struck out 55 batters in 59.2 innings. His 0.82 earned run average (seven earned runs) led all area players.
“Cole is so smart and knows the game so well,” said Highland coach Travis Church. “He has three pitches that he can spot for strikes. He is so smart, and works ahead in the count. I think he only walked about 10 guys for the season. What makes him even more dangerous is that he has a really good move to first. He helped us on the mound by cutting down teams from being aggressive on the base paths.”
As good as Randolph was on the mound for the Scots, it was his other attributes that helped the team win the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference Red Division title.
“He is a great leader,” Church said. “He was like having another coach out there on the field. His teammates played at a higher level when he was on the mound because they knew what his expectations were of the team. By far, he is who we are going to miss the most, his leadership. He has been a leader for us since his sophomore year, and did a phenomenal job.”
When Randolph was not pitching, he was playing first base for the Scots, and batted the entire time. He hit .532 for Highland, pounding out 42 hits and slugging a .899 percentage. He had 40 RBI and scored ?? runs. For Randolph, though, it was almost a season that wasn’t.
“He had some shoulder issues in the winter, and we really had to work him back. Our goal was to have him get stronger with each outing and each day. His arm did that for us,” said Church. “He was, without a doubt, a complete player. We’ve had some great baseball players come through Highland, and he reminds me of Danny Hughes and what Danny was able to accomplish for us. Cole has a left-handed bat and a left-handed arm just like Danny. He did so much for us. He batted in the three hole for us, setting the table for our other guys.”
Nothing Randolph did surprised his coaches or his teammates. He was the consummate player, leading by example.
“The first time I saw Cole pitch, he was 13 years old,” said Church. “He had a lot of pop then and was kind of overpowering guys at that age. He progressed mentally over the last four years more than anything else. He comes from a family that lives for baseball, and he loves it. Each year, he progressed mentally and physically. ... Academically, he led us there too. He showed the younger kids what needed to be done in the classroom, and set the expectations there as well.”
Both Ruhl and Randolph will be continuing their athletic careers at the college level. And to top it all off, they will be teammates when they head off to Heidelberg College in the fall.
Savage led the Yellow Jackets to their best record ever, finishing with a 27-4 mark in 2010. Mount Vernon won its third district title, and won the Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division once again.
“Record-wise, there isn’t much of a debate that this was our best team,” said Savage. “We broke the school record for wins, but part of that was we had a great spring, and we didn’t have very many rainouts. Consequently, we got to play all of our regular-season games. Some of my former players might debate which teams were the best and have a little different opinion on that, but these kids did a great job. ... There is no doubt they are one of the better teams I’ve coached. They’ve been in a winning program since their freshmen year, and have won a lot of games. They were accustomed to winning, and didn’t like to lose, so that certainly played into it. They were very competitive.”
For his team to have the success that it did, Savage believes it took everyone to contribute. Mount Vernon started with a large number of returning players and mixed in some youth to springboard the effort.
“Offensively and defensively, we returned a solid core from our 20-4 team,” said Savage. “We had 10 seniors, so I felt like we would be able to move the ball pretty consistently. I also thought we would make our routine plays in the field. Where I was a little concerned was our pitching, but it came through. We were very consistent all year long. I don’t think we were overpowering; we didn’t strike out a ton of guys, but we didn’t walk a whole lot either. We were able to throw strikes for the most part, and we had four or five different pitchers that were successful on the mound. They kept us in the game, and let our offense and defense win the games for us.”
Getting back to the regional final in Division I wasn’t an easy task. The Jackets had to beat some great teams, and as the players would attest, couldn’t have done so without Savage and the rest of the coaching staff.
“You have to have a good solid team, fundamentally, and you’ve got to get some breaks along the way,” said Savage. “We lost a few games we should have won, and we won a few games we should have lost, actually. It evened out in the long run. We took advantage of the opportunities that were presented to us. That’s what you have to do. We were also a team that made our own breaks through aggressiveness and doing the right things most of the time.”