State champs celebrate 1972 title
The secret to winning the state championship and having a good team in 1972 hasn’t changed 45 years later.
The secret? Pitching.
Mike Burcham was the head coach of the 1972 Ironton Fighting Tigers’ baseball team that won the Class AA state championship.
It was a team loaded with talent and it wasn’t restricted to just the starting lineup. The team could hit, field, run and pitch.
The state championship team gathered Friday as the team celebrated the 45th anniversary of its historic feat.
Former players in attendance were Mark Fairchild, Rick Boykin, Terry Lee Mowery, Scott Wylie, Dave Kriebel, Gary Carrico, Jimmy Payne, Bob Bayert, Greg Rogers, Fred Easterling, Jeff Brickey, John Zornes and Rick Massey.
Also attending were head coach Mike Burcham, and statistician Darrell Jones
Unable to attend were Mike Rowe, Steve Johann, Greg Spence, Steve Massey, Jim O’Leary and Jim Tordiff, assistant coach Tom Castle and manager Don Vencill.
Deceased members are Tino Ball, Jeff “Sticks” Collins, Keith Parker and assistant coach Lou Parker.
And Burcham reiterated that pitching was one of the keys to the title.
Jerry Murnahan was 14-0 with six saves as Ironton went 29-3 to lead a staff that including the blazing fastball of Jeff “Sticks” Collins — a future draft pick of the Chicago Cubs — and Rick Massey who made hits name by signing to play linebacker at Kentucky.
But there were others such as Gary Carrico, Mark Fairchild and Jim O’Leary.
“Number one, you had a lot of good pitchers and that’s what it takes. Everyone knows about Jerry (Murnahan). He was 14-0 that year. Sticks (Jeff Collins) didn’t lose. A lot of people didn’t realize that Rick Massey was 15-1 in his high school career,” said Burcham.
“But we also had every position. There wasn’t an out on the field where you said, ‘ah, he ain’t going to hit it.’ Our guys who hit seventh, eighth and ninth could hit the ball. And we fielded well. And they were all good all-around athletes. That was the start of Ironton’s comeback. All sports were good that year, baseball in particular.”
Ironton beat Columbus Bishop Wehrle in the state semifinals in a game highlighted by cacher Dave Kriebel’s 450-foot home run. Ironton then beat Cleveland-based Solon 3-2 the next day in the championship game.
Burcham said there were intangibles such as the team’s mental makeup. He said the team was fearless.
“Probably because they weren’t as smart as everybody thought they were,” Burcham said with a laugh.
“They had no fear if they were playing Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus. It didn’t mean anything to these guys. They just liked to play and they knew they could hit and their pitchers would roll them down. I went to game and guys from Cleveland and Columbus would say, “are your guys nervous? You think you’ve got a chance?’ I’m thinking, ‘we’re pitching Sticks and Jerry. You ain’t got a chance today. Don’t you understand that?’”
Collins started the state championship game and struck out the first eight batters. Murnahan pitched the seventh for the save after pitching a complete game on Friday.
“Jerry was just unbeatable. He would just throw strikes. He was strike machine. Jerry Murnahan was a great high school baseball player. A lot of these guys were,” said Burcham.
Yes, even the players who were forced to be backups but were good enough to start for any other team. Burcham said it would have been easier to give them playing time if the rules were the same as today’s game.
“I felt bad that a lot of these guys didn’t get to play but you couldn’t re-enter so you couldn’t hardly afford to take some guys out. But they all had fun and they all enjoyed it,” said Burcham.
“And they all weren’t seniors. Jerry, Sticks and Rick were all back. We should have won the state the next year. We had that one bad inning in the final eight. Sheridan scored six runs in one inning and didn’t hit a ball out of the infield.”
Burcham said the younger players who were backups the previous year stepped in and performed well during the 1973 season.
“We had the pitching to win it again the next year, but we only had a couple of bats back: (Greg) Spence and (Dave) Kriebel and (Keith) Parker. But we had three pitchers and the kids who filled in like (Steve) Johann. That was the most disappointing loss ever. But they were fun. I was just 28 (years old),” said Burcham.