Seventeen years ago, I made the trip to Bill Davis Stadium in Columbus to see the Tallmadge baseball team play at the Division II state tournament.
At the time, the Blue Devils had a once-in-a-generation pitcher named Jason Stephens and current Tallmadge High School athletic director Don Seeker was the team’s head coach.
It was quite an eventful two days for the Blue Devils.
The semifinal was pushed back a few hours due to rainy conditions. And Tallmadge looked destined to be a one-and-done performer.
Stephens, who many considered to be the Blue Devils’ best pitcher in school history, had a nasty viral infection and was ineffective.
As a result, Lakewood, a school located in Hebron, stormed out to a 6-0 lead.
Of course, if you’ve followed Tallmadge for a lot of years like I have, you know the story.
The Blue Devils roared back and wound up earning an improbable 7-6 victory, thanks to a walk-off home run by Brandon Caipen.
Looking like no one could stop them, the Tallmadge players were poised to capture their first state title against Chardon Notre Dame Cathedral Latin — a team I saw score 12 runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to stun Walsh Jesuit 16-6 in a regional title contest in Struthers the previous week.
But it was not to be.
Stephens, who probably dreaded seeing my face again due to my uncanny ability to be a rather ruthless grim reaper, once again struggled.
The Blue Devils never had a chance in this one. The Lions jumped out to an early 5-0 lead and the magic of the previous game didn’t happen.
NDCL cruised to an 8-0 win and the state title.
Tallmadge didn’t let such a disappointing loss keep things gloomy in T-Town for very long.
The baseball team returned to the state tournament one year later and finished the job with a 6-1 victory over Richmond Edison. By the way, Richmond is very close to my hometown of Steubenville and I used to cover the Wildcats when I first got into the world of sports journalism.
This time, yours truly was nowhere to be found when Tallmadge celebrated with the first-place trophy.
Last year, I put to rest my jinx label when I saw the Blue Devils at Huntington Park in Columbus.
Tallmadge, thanks to right-handed junior starters Zach Boyd and Jared Burick, cruised to its first state championship in 15 years with wins over Maumee in the semifinal game and Dayton Chaminade Julienne in the title game.
The Blue Devils, after a slow start and a schedule that looked more like a murderer’s row, got back to Columbus Friday.
And appropriately enough, they got to see a familiar foe: Chaminade Julienne.
However, like the 2001 title game, Tallmadge just didn’t have it.
Right-hander Ryan Peltier, who seemed to throw the ball from about 20 different angles, baffled the Tallmadge batters throughout the evening.
Thanks to Peltier’s nasty array of pitches, the Blue Devils’ chances of a repeat ended sadly with a 2-1 loss.
If you recall, this same Peltier fellow lost to Tallmadge 4-0 in the 2017 title game.
After the game, I saw many sad faces in the dugout. I certainly could understand their pain.
When it came to the 2018 Blue Devils, who featured 11 seniors and lost just one player from last year to graduation, this wasn’t supposed to be in the script.
Sure, Tallmadge looked a bit vulnerable at times. In fact, the Blue Devils, thanks to a very difficult schedule and perhaps, feeling a bit of the pressure to maintain their excellence, were 3-9 at one point.
But Tallmadge wound up winning 16 of its next 18 games before running into Mr. Peltier.
When I bumped into Blue Devils head coach Kenny Linn, who took over for Seeker in 2004, after the game, he was able to put the experience in perspective.
Since Tallmadge was so anxious to get back on top of the mountain, the Tallmadge players and coaches didn’t really get a chance to really appreciate their stay in the state capital.
Linn made sure that didn’t happen again.
The Blue Devils spent Thursday evening watching other state semifinal games and got a chance to unwind and really enjoy the experience.
The ending to this story was abrupt and will sting the players for a long time.
Nonetheless, Tallmadge baseball is back where it belongs, thanks to these fine athletes.
That would be among the elite.
Congrats to the Blue Devils and best wishes to the 11 seniors who wrapped up incredibly fabulous careers. By the way, several of those talented seniors will continue to perform on the diamond in college.
One way or another, T-Town won’t forget about these passionate, gifted and extraordinary young men who turned Tallmadge baseball back into the Ohio juggernaut it once was.
You can bet your bottom dollar that I won’t either.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.