Hamilton, which finished second in the South Division with a 21-17 record, had lost the opening game of the championship series 13-6 on Friday, but bounced back with a 3-1 win to force a deciding game. The Joes were sparked by a five-run third inning in the finale and led by catcher Evan Ulrich, who had three RBI, a double and a triple and also played on last year’s championship team.
“It felt great,” Thamann said. “I’m still celebrating a little right now. It was two months of hard work for the players, and we had four returning guys that really helped make it another successful experience, especially beating Lima, two years in a row.”
Ulrich (University of Charleston) was joined this season by fellow returnees Chase Hopewell (University of Cincinnati), Liberty Township native Clay Brock (Northern Kentucky University) and Zach Breeden (Miami-Hamilton) – all pitchers. Hopewell served mainly as a closer or long reliever, Brock was a right-handed starter and Breeden a left-handed reliever.
Many of the regular contributors on this year’s team didn’t play in spring ball, so the Joes got off to a slow start, winning just two of the first six games. However, the chemistry developed quickly with the help of the returning core group of players sealing the bonds and Hamilton won its next seven games.
The adversity set in when the Joes lost 10 players in the last two weeks of the season because of injury, soreness and even just desire to avoid injury.
“At the beginning of the year, there was a big learning curve for a lot of guys adjusting to live pitching, but once they turned it on, we won a whole week in a row and we were looking pretty good,” Thamann said. “But then, guys started getting tired at the end of the year and fortunately we were able to find extra pitching and the guys that really wanted to play stepped up. The big thing for us was the culture of the team, the guys bonded quickly and that helped us pull together.”
Thamann said he warned players at the beginning of the season how long and busy the summer league is and that the more guys that stick it out to the end, the easier it makes to win.
By the end of the season, a few of the pitchers had met their limit, two others felt sore and didn’t want to get injured and another guy shut himself down because of injury. Hamilton had started out with an overloaded roster knowing players get burnt out and leave, and the Joes had some others that they knew they could pick up if needed.
“Our bench became two position players, but we had plenty of pitching,” Thamann said. “The last series one of our outfielders popped his shoulder out of his socket, so we had one bench player rest of the series and we just rotated with the one player. That was crazy.”
“We picked up one or two guys that really stepped in and didn’t try to take over but really fit in and helped finish off the year,” Thamann added.
Some of the other players that stood out this season included NKU catcher Nick Wimmers, pitcher Tyler Hutson (Southern Indiana), Hamilton native and left-handed pitcher Noah Tincher, second baseman Parker Lester (Miami), infielder Cal Brazier (Tiffin) and center fielder Andrew Patrick (Wright State).
The top two teams in the North and South divisions advanced to the playoffs. Hamilton swept the South Division regular-season winner Licking County Settlers to open the playoffs before dropping the first game against Lima.
“We had a ton of confidence going in (to the championship game), even though we lost the first game,” Thamann said. “The will to win really showed, players were relaxed but the energy never slowed. They stayed up the whole game and they performed. They knew it was a big game and they didn’t let it affect their game. It was a great way to end a fun season.”