Thursday, April 18th, 2013
Cavaliers won first MAC title in 1974
Last Curtain Call
By Robb Hemmelgarn
Nearly 40 years have passed since Mike and Jerry Kanney helped begin Coldwater's dominance on the baseball diamond in the Midwest Athletic Conference.
The Kanney brothers weren't at a loss for words when reminiscing about the 1974 baseball season, the first spring for the Midwest Athletic Conference. Although many of the teams shared affiliation in the Tri-County League, the MAC's predecessor, Coldwater and veteran head coach Lou Brunswick were the new kids in the neighborhood and immediately made their mark with six returning lettermen.
"Lou Brunswick was really ahead of his time as a coach, which was a big reason we enjoyed success year after year," said Jerry Kanney, who was a junior pitcher in 1974. "It didn't matter what the weather was like, we played baseball. Granted, sometimes it was indoors, but we had batting cages and other devices to help prepare for the spring. He also scheduled as many games as possible and never liked to call them off."
The season opened with victories over Delphos St. John's, Ohio City and St. Marys before the Cavs faced Evergreen in the first of five scheduled doubleheaders. Following a 14-3 blowout in the opener, the Cavaliers stumbled in game two for their first setback of the year.
Undaunted, Brunswick's crew responded with five straight wins, including their first two MAC victories against Bradford and Minster.
"We had high expectations for our program every year, so 1974 wasn't any different," said Jerry Kanney. "We were excited to be in a new league, although we still played many of the WBL (Western Buckeye League) teams we had played up to that point. In the MAC, we knew Parkway, New Bremen and St. Henry were both going to be pretty good, so we were eager for the new challenge."
With a 9-1 overall mark, the Cavs bumped into an old foe from the WBL and the Lima Bath Wildcats knocked off Coldwater 6-1.
"Bath was always really, really good back then and it obviously was that way again in 1974," recalled Jerry Kanney. "Mike Mauk was their catcher and a kid with the last name of George was an outstanding player as well. They also had one of the best baseball diamonds in the area, so it was always fun to play up there against great competition."
The loss to Bath did little to derail the Cavalier train, as they went unbeaten for the remainder of their schedule and finished the campaign at 20-2 overall. The highlight of the streak included a 10-2 win over St. Henry.
"We clinched the league title that season at home against St. Henry," said Mike Kanney, a senior in 1974. "That was one game that really stands out because it was in Coldwater against a great rival and we raised the league's first baseball title after that game."
Coldwater's postseason run began with sectional victories over Lima Central Catholic and Kenton, before they edged Van Wert 2-0 in the district tournament opener. The triumph moved Coldwater to 23-2 and set up a rematch with Bath, the champions of the WBL.
Jerry Kanney took his sparkling 11-0 record on the mound into the battle, but it wasn't enough against the Wildcats. Despite holding a late 1-0 advantage, things fell apart for the Orange and Black as their season drew to a close with a 5-1 loss.
"Coach Brunswick always remarked how walks would kill you, and we proved that in our last game that season," said Jerry Kanney. "We had a 1-0 lead heading into the final inning and I was on the mound. I remember walking a few guys and our defense had a couple of errors. Bath ended up scoring a few times and beat us. I was disappointed that we lost, but what was more upsetting was that the walks and errors were very uncharacteristic for us. We may not have had the best players in the world on that team, but we were always very fundamentally sound and that helped us to win a lot of games."
Although things concluded earlier than the Kanney brothers preferred, it was a remarkable year for the Coldwater program that lit the fuse in winning the new conference's first seven league baseball championships.
"It was obviously disappointing when the season ended," said Mike Kanney. "We won a lot of games along the way though and we had tons of fun. Winning the first MAC title was a big thing for us. As it turned out, it was the start to a lot of successful seasons for Coldwater baseball in the league."
The 1974 squad, led by seniors Joe Hoyng, Larry Knapke, Carl Buening, John Seitz, as well as Mike Kanney, was the winningest in school history to that point, and their formula for success was depth in pitching.
"One aspect that makes a good team is pitching, and that was the case for us," said Mike Kanney. "Between Larry Knapke, Doug Newcom, Jerry Boeke, and my brother, we had a lot of solid arms. When you played as many games as coach Brunswick had us play, it was definitely important to have fresh guys throwing the ball."
"One thing that I will never forget was how much fun we always had. We played with a great group of guys who were all really sound players. Our pitchers threw strikes and the hitters put the ball in play. That is what it takes a lot of times in order to be successful, and that is exactly what worked for us in Coldwater that season and in so many years that followed," said Jerry Kanney.