Bob Weider has been taking his North Hills Palomino baseball teams to the regional finals for a decade. In that time, none of his teams dug as deep of a hole as this year's group.
Just seven innings into the double-elimination regional tournament and North Hills had suffered its first loss, a 10-0 decision at the hands of Roth Brothers, a team from Youngstown, Ohio.
"We were embarrassed," Weider said. "We were totally embarrassed. We just put together a 20-3 [regular] season, we were going into the first game of the regionals with our best pitcher on the mound and then we play our worst game of the year."
That best pitcher was Jesse Bauer, who was tagged with the loss. Then news came that catcher Jeremy Gitzen was out with an illness after starting every North Hills game to that point. North Hills had reached the regional 10 consecutive years under Weider, but had never lost the first game.
The hole seemed as deep as the Grand Canyon.
The next day, North Hills knocked off Seneca Valley to keep its slim tournament hopes alive. That set up a showdown against Palomino Quad County North regular-season champion Springdale. North Hills stunned Springdale, 7-0, and followed that with a win against Kiski to reach the semifinals.
"When we beat Springdale, it made believers out of us," Weider said. "That was the best team in the league. I think that was the turning point. We were at the point where we had to win every game."
While North Hills had to win every game, Warmby Sports, a team from Youngstown, Ohio, still had the luxury of being able to lose a game and stay alive. North Hills eliminated Quad County South champion Washington in the semifinals and later that day came up with a 10-0, six-inning victory against Warmby Sports.
The teams would meet again at High Field Park in Butler for the regional title and a trip to zone tournament. North Hills completed its improbable losers-bracket rally with a 3-2 victory.
"For them to perform so well, especially at such a critical point of the regions, it is very gratifying for me as a coach," Weider said. "It was just a great group of guys, I am real proud of them. It just says a lot about their focus, commitment and dedication."
North Hills carried the momentum from the regional to the East Zones. It defeated Cincinnati Storm Club in the first round and came within one run of Lynnhaven, Va., in the second round. Lynnhaven was the No. 3-ranked team in the country last year.
North Hills eliminated host Lyndora, 6-3, in the loser's bracket before bowing out in a rematch against the Cincinnati Storm Club, 2-1.
"We ran into a couple buzz saws but we represented ourselves well," Weider said. "It was an exciting time for our players."
Everybody's responsibility intensified after the opening-round loss in the regional but nobody had a bigger task than backup catcher Joel Leviere. He had not caught a game since Pony league but stepped up to replace Gitzen.
"It was an exceptional performance by a very good athlete," Weider said.
As he was all season, Bauer was the star of the pitching staff at the regional, but he some help. Bauer pitched more than 20 innings and maintained a 0.68 ERA. Greg Friend, a Shaler Area High School graduate who was added to the team for regional, won two games and finished with a 0.47 ERA.
Bauer was an offensive leader too, batting .318 at the regional tournament. Zach Gall smacked a home run in the 10-0 win against Warmby Sports and hit .300 in the tournament. He will be the only player not eligible to play Palomino next season because of his age.
"He is a tremendous player but he is a better person," Weider said of Gall.
"Everyone else is eligible to come back and I hope they all do come back. They are such a great group."