High school baseball: Hoban, Walsh players excited about prospect of winning a state championship in Akron

Michael Beaven
Akron Beacon Journal
Hoban's Nolan Holmgren at bat against Salem during the teams' Division II regional final game Saturday, June 5, 2021 in Canton, Ohio. [Karen Schiely / Akron Beacon Journal]

The opportunity to win a state championship in your home city or in your home county does not happen often for area student-athletes.

Generally, student-athletes in Columbus or in Franklin County have the best opportunity in Ohio to experience that feeling if they or their team advances that far with the Ohio High School Athletic Association contesting a majority of its state tournaments in the capital city.

Canton McKinley and Massillon Washington athletes have experienced that chance in the recent past, and softball players from Walsh Jesuit and Archbishop Hoban a few years ago competed for state titles at Akron's Firestone Stadium.

High School baseball primer: Follow live for Archbishop Hoban in a Division II state semifinal

This weekend, baseball players at Archbishop Hoban and Walsh Jesuit will get that chance at Akron's Canal Park.

Hoban (22-9) is scheduled to play Vermilion (26-6) at 7 p.m. Friday in a Division II state semifinal and Walsh Jesuit (28-3) is set to meet New Albany (27-5) at 7 p.m. Saturday in a Division I state semifinal.

Hoban's starting lineup features two players — junior catcher Nolan Holmgren and junior shortstop-pitcher Shawn Parnell — who live in Akron. 

Walsh's starting lineup includes three players — senior second baseman Jake Armsey, senior pitcher-first baseman Erik Stern and junior shortstop Henry Kaczmar — who have Akron mailing addresses.

Walsh Jesuit's Erik Stern throws a pitch against Mayfield in a Division I regional final on Saturday, June 5, 2021 in Louisville, Ohio, at Andy Aljancic Field.  [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

"This is a really cool opportunity," said Stern, who lives in Fairlawn. "It is going to be a comfortable atmosphere since I have played there a handful of times. It also is going to be really exciting to have all of my family and friends that support me and love watching me play be at the game. Those are two big factors that I think are going to help us bring home the championship to Walsh."

Stern and Kaczmar have both worn the WJ uniform at Canal Park in multiple regular-season games and in an exhibition in their careers. They also have played in summer travel baseball games at the home of the RubberDucks. 

More:Walsh's Stern ready for state baseball, but not ready to choose college

"This is awesome to be able to play on one of the only teams in the final four that is the most local," Kaczmar, who lives in Bath. "To be able to play in your hometown is awesome. This is awesome for the team. This is awesome for everyone's family. They can all come to the game without booking a hotel room. It is awesome to see that we might have the opportunity to win a state title in our hometown. We want to keep the trophy here.

"... To have the state tournament be held in Akron is awesome for many reasons. To not have to travel is awesome."

Walsh Jesuit Henry Kaczmar throws to first after getting the force to turn a double play in the third inning against Mentor in the Division I regional semifinal baseball game at Louisville High School on Friday June 4, 2021. [Mike Cardew / Akron Beacon Journal]

Walsh topped Hoban 2-0 in a regular-season game at Canal Park on April 22. Hoban beat St. Vincent-St. Mary 6-1 in a regular-season game at Canal Park on April 18.

"I am super excited," said Hoban senior third baseman Alex Givens, who lives in Cuyahoga Falls. 

"I have been getting phone calls and text messages from a bunch of family members and friends that are like, 'Hey, we know your game is at Canal Park so we are going to come down.' The amount of fans and people that will be there because this is in our hometown is awesome. I have trouble sleeping before normal playoff games, but the night before Thursday, it is going to be different because the excitement is unreal.

"Canal Park when we play St. Vincent-St. Mary and Walsh, it is always awesome because that is a field that you know the ball will never really take bad hops on you and everything is going to play smoothly. In front of all of these people, especially with the state championship on the line, nothing gets better than that. I am truly so excited for that."

Hoban and Walsh's rosters are filled with players who live in other Summit County suburban cities or townships, including Copley, Green, Macedonia, Richfield, Stow, Tallmadge and Twinsburg.

Hoban's Caleb Kepler at bat against Salem the teams' Division II regional final game Saturday, June 5, 2021 in Canton, Ohio. [Karen Schiely / Akron Beacon Journal]

"We have played at Canal Park twice already this year," said Hoban junior right fielder-pitcher Caleb Kepler, who lives in Norton. 

"We know what we are about. We are bringing in crazy momentum with the 14-game winning streak, and we are ready to take the state championship trophy home." 

More:Stern's gem leads Walsh past Dover 3-1 in Division I baseball district final

The other half of the Division II state bracket features Carroll Bloom-Carroll (27-5) against Hamilton Badin (27-5) at 4 p.m. Friday, and Toledo St. John’s Jesuit (24-6) will play Cincinnati Elder (24-8) at 4 p.m. Saturday in the other Division I state semifinal.

The Division II state championship game is set for 1 p.m. Sunday and the Division I state final is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sunday. 

Hoban teammates cheer on Shawn Parnell in the dugout as he "lifts" styrofoam weights after scoring a run against Salem during the eighth inning of the teams' Division II regional final game Saturday, June 5, 2021 in Canton, Ohio. [Karen Schiely / Akron Beacon Journal]

Projected starters for Hoban

Hoban's pitchers in its regional tournament victories were Dylan Snyder, Noah LaFine, Parnell and Kepler.

More:Hoban seniors enjoy 'electric' run to Division II state tournament

Holmgren is the Knights catcher, Thomas Crowe is the first baseman, Matt Terzola is the second baseman, Parnell is the shortstop and Givens is the third baseman. The Knights outfield from left to right features Michael Ciavolella, Parker Falkenstein and Kepler, and the designated hitter is Dylan Feltovich.

Walsh Jesuit's Jake Armsey throws to first to complete a game-ending double play against Mentor in the fifth inning of Walsh's 17-1 victory in the teams' Division I regional semifinal game at Louisville High School on Friday June 4, 2021. [Mike Cardew / Akron Beacon Journal]

Projected starters for Walsh

Walsh's pitchers in its regional tournament wins were Ryan Piech and Stern. Mason Eckelman is the Warriors catcher, Armsey is the second baseman, Kaczmar is the shortstop, Joey Canzoni is the third baseman, Andrew Gormley is the center fielder, Alejandro Covas is the right fielder and Kasey Kish is the designated hitter. When Piech is on the mound, Stern plays first base and Mark Serdinak is the left fielder. When Stern pitches, Serdinak is at first base and Justin Bremner is the left fielder.

Michael Beaven can be reached at mbeaven@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow Beaven on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MBeavenABJ.