Overcoming Obstacles

Published 1:23 am Monday, June 1, 2009

Caleb Blackburn knows the joys of winning, and he knows the heartbreak of defeat.

He experienced both while in pain.

The St. Joseph Flyers’ senior pitcher was cruising along this season until an April 22 game at Portsmouth Notre Dame when he injured his wrist trying to jump over a catcher while attempting to score. Tests showed Blackburn had torn ligaments in his pitching wrist.

Despite the injury and physical pain, Blackburn posted a 9-1 record this season with 102 strikeouts and 33 walks in 59.1 innings pitched. He proved extremely stingy with runs as evidenced by his 0.98 earned run average.

“(The wrist) only hurt when I pitched or turned the key in my car,” said Blackburn. “It slowed me down some, but it didn’t bother me to pitch that way until the last couple of games. I could get by not throwing as hard against some of the other teams, but not the real good teams.”

Overlooked in Blackburn’s pitching numbers was a .410 batting average that was also hampered the final month of the season because of his injury.

The Flyers’ success was not totally on Blackburn’s shoulders, but his pitching was the key to any deep run in the tournament. That didn’t bother Blackburn.

“There was never any pressure on me. My arm never got tired. I did pull my hamstring in practice the Sunday before the tournament started and it kind of hurt, but I knew I had to throw anyway,” said Blackburn.

While his numbers were the most impressive at the district coaches’ meeting, Blackburn was not the selection for the Mizzuno All-Ohio series.

During Blackburn’s four years, the Flyers were 63-21 for a .750 winning percentage that ranks among the successful periods in school history.

Although the Flyers won four straight sectionals, they failed to achieve their goal of reaching the regional tournament for the first time since 1982.

“Every year our expectations went up. We came up a little short, but baseball is a game with a lot of variables,” said Flyers’ coach Greg Bryant.

This year’s team began 14-0 and rose to a number one ranking in the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches’ poll weeks 2-to-4.

The Flyers finished second in the final poll.

Not bad for a school with just 24 boys in the high school. And of that total, 15 played baseball.

“Polls may not mean a lot because you want to settle things on the field, but it does recognize that your program is successful. Our school has never been ranked number one or even number two, so it’s quite a tribute to the effort and hard work of all our kids,” said Bryant.

Blackburn was not a one-man team, especially during his four years in high school.

Infielder Chad Harvey and outfield and catcher Pat Gagai were four-year starters who played a major role in the team’s lofty winning percentage.

“Harvey and Gagai were so valuable to us in a lot of ways. They were versatile, they contributed offensively and defensively, and they were leaders,” said Bryant. “And they were all good students.”

Harvey and Blackburn were half the senior class’s four valedictorians. Another valedictorian was Joey Basedow who was also a starter.

The team’s fifth senior was George McCown.

“We lost some good seniors. Hopefully our younger kids will step up and carry on the what this group of seniors has started,” said Bryant.