It was a slow start for Martin Oil during the 2007 George B. Kelley Federation baseball season, a season that eventually led to a championship. They won their first two games, but then lost their next two contests to teams with 0-3 records. After the first 14 ballgames, their record was a barely over .500 (8-6). Their final regular season mark was just 13-9. The reason for this up one day, down the next, could be explained away by noting that Martin Oil started six or seven young men every game, who were playing their first season of federation baseball. They also experienced the usual vacations, work schedules and competition with other sports that always plagues the summer baseball leagues and resulted in not always having their best lineup on the field at any given time.
“The coaching staff preached to our guys all year long that they had the talent to win it (league championship). We knew it,” said Martin Oil manager Ed Davis. “But it took a while before they could finally find faith in themselves that they had the talent. We played some tough games that the kids could have folded the tent. There were a couple tough games against Corporal Miller, tough games with Barkman that we lost, that I felt we probably should have won.”
In the Kelley Federation, in 2007, the top team in each of the two divisions earned a bye through the first round of playoffs and the four teams with the next-best winning percentages qualified for the first round. Martin Oil was one of those teams, meeting Tyrone Legion in the opening best-of-three round. Martin Oil, third in the Kelley Division, downed Tyrone Legion (10-12), second seed in the Cox Division, in two straight games to reach the semifinals against ReMax Realty. After beating Martin Oil all four times they played in 2006, including knocking Martin Oil out of the playoffs in the semifinals, in two straight, ReMax had bombed Martin Oil 15-6 and 13-3 during the 2007 regular season and promptly tossed a one-hit 10-0 mercy rule win in the first of the best-of-three semifinal series.
The second game would prove to be a turning point for Martin Oil, managed by Ed Davis and coaches Tim Kovac, John Schmittle, Jordan Taylor and Bob Miller. The rest of the playoffs resulted in five consecutive victories and the team’s fourth league title since 2001. In the second game of the semifinals, with Earnie Kelley on the mound, Martin Oil returned the favor by bolting to an 11-1 win in five innings. The rubber match was played at the Mansion Park field, long a nemesis for Martin Oil, no matter who they played, because rain made the regular playoff field, Vets Field unplayable. Brian Hostler did Kelley one better, by shutting out ReMax 7-0 to overcome the Mansion Park jinx and punch Martin Oil’s ticket into the championship finals against Barkman Oil from the Cove area.
“I think the big key for the end of the year, once we made the playoffs, actually was the playoffs themselves,” explained Davis. “That series with ReMax when we got 10-runned in the first game. All of a sudden, I don’t know what, but something happened. It seemed like the lights went on. We 10-runned them in the second game and then Brian Hostler pitched the game of his life in the third game, to take us into the finals. It just seemed like those two games and the next three, our guys played with all the confidence in the world. If only they had played that way all year, we would have been the number one seed.”
With both Kelley and Hostler unavailable for more than a few innings at best, Davis went with a pair of 16-year old rookies as his starters in the first two games of the best-of-five finals. Coming of age at just the time when they were needed, first Nate Gray, and then Trey Mock held the Barkman crew at bay.
In the first game, Gray made just one bad pitch in five innings on the mound, a three-run home run, leaving with Barkman Oil ahead 5-4. Not-to-be denied, Martin Oil relievers Justin Miller and Kelley held Barkman scoreless and designated hitter Cam Irvin’s single up the middle drove in the winning run in the 6-5 victory.
Mock and Martin Oil took advantage of some loose defense in the second game for a 7-4 win. Mock pitched five and 1/3 innings for the win, and Kelley picked up his second save in a row in a lights-out effort over the final one and 2/3 innings. Brian Hostler kept setting the table with three bunt singles among a 4-for-4 game at the plate, and Mock contributed a double to help the cause.
“We were hoping to get a split in the first two games, knowing, that Kelley and Hostler weren’t ready for more than a few innings, and then have them with their proper rest for the rest of the time,” was how Davis described the situation. “When we won both, it pushed Barkman Oil to the limit.”
For game three, Davis handed the ball over to the 18-year old Hostler. After being quoted in an area paper, that his team was going to “bring out the brooms” for a championship finals sweep, Hostler backed up his mouth with his arm, striking out four without walking a batter, and limiting Barkman to one solo run over four innings, before Kelley punctuated the 11-1 five-inning Mercy-Rule win by striking out the side in the last of the fifth.
During the George B. Kelley regular season, five Martin Oil hitters batted .400 or better, and five more hit at least .300. Earnie Kelley led Martin Oil with a .464 average, followed closely by Brian Hostler at .458 and Nate Gray with a .455 average. Jake Manning hit .414 followed by Cameron Irvin (.404), Chad Coho (.391), Garrett Rabold (.385), Justin Manning (.375), Trey Mock (.375) and Jimmy Watters (.300). Irvin bashed two home runs, while Gray had 26 RBI to Kelley’s 22 and Mock’s 20. Brian Hostler banged eight doubles, Coho had seven and Gray and Irvin each had five. Gray led the team in runs scored (29), triples (4) and stolen bases (14). Kelley had 15 walks and added 22 RBI and 12 stolen bases. Jake Manning led the team with 29 hits. Hostler added 21 runs scored, 13 walks, five doubles and 13 stolen bases.
Kelley finished a perfect 5-0 in the regular season with one save and then notched two more wins and two saves in the playoffs. Kelley struck out 76 batters, while walking 27 in 51 and 1/3 innings, with a 2.61 ERA. In the playoffs, he had a lights out 0.45 ERA in 15 and 2/3 innings. Hostler was 3-1 during the regular season plus 2-0 in the playoffs, with a total of 40 strikeouts and 33 walks. Brian’s ERA was a microscopic 0.54 in 13 innings during the playoffs,
“First, I want to thank Tracey and Ron Mock and Joyce Decker for their help with the concession stand this year, as well as Thelma Kerns for the pork and sauerkraut, Bev Miller for her help with the concession stand and for being the team treasurer for the past seven or eight years,” said Davis. “I would also like to thank Lisa Kovac for her assistance with the concession stand, and my daughter Miranda. We really use and need the concession stand to help us make our ends meet every year. This year, they really did a super job, and we had a tremendous response to our concession stand. It made a nice bit of money to help the team for uniforms next year.
“In addition we have to thank our sponsor Martin Oil, and Tom and Christine Martin for the outstanding support we get year-in and year-out. It is a real pleasure to Tom and Christine at our ballgames over the course of the year, especially at the playoffs this year to turn around and see them both there smiling when we clinched a playoff series,” said Davis. “And it’s always nice to see them come up and participate in the awards presentation and receiving the trophies for winning the league title.
“We had real good support from the parents this year, and I would like to thank them. I would also like to say thank you to all of the coaching staff. Bob with his 40 years of participation (actually it has only been 30), and Tim Kovac with his number of years, and our young guys John Schmittle and Jordan Taylor. It was really nice to get some youth involved to help us older guys out a little bit. I am real tickled with the staff we have, and hopefully we can stay together for a lot longer.”