Champs!

The Southern Ohio Copperheads celebrate after beating the Saginaw Sugar Beets 10-8 in Game 2 of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League Championship series.

Note: This preview appears in the Tuesday, June 4 newspaper on Page A6.

Last year was a season unlike any other for the Southern Ohio Copperheads.

What on Earth could the Snakes do in 2019 that could possibly top the improbable and dreamy finish from last August?

They’ll begin to find out on Tuesday. The Copperheads begin their 18th season in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League on Tuesday with a 2:05 p.m. start at Licking County.

Southern Ohio will be hard pressed to top 2018. The Copperheads won the franchise’s first ever league title with a 2-0 sweep over the Saginaw Sugar Beets in the championship round of the 2018 GLSCL Playoffs.

Southern Ohio clinched the title with a 10-8 win inside their home ballpark at Bob Wren Stadium when a crowd of more than 1,000 watched as the Copperheads overcame a 7-0 deficit to win.

“It’s surreal,” said 2018 GLSCL Player of the Year Blaine Crim after that game.

“This fan base is unlike any in the league and I think the country honestly,” added Crim, who hit. 401 in 2018 with the Copperheads. “I think it’s as close to a minor league or professional experience as you can get.”

The thrilling title game capped a furious finish in 2018 for Southern Ohio. The Copperheads were 31-10 in the regular season, went 4-0 in the playoffs and ended the summer by winning 11 games in a row and 17 of their last 18 overall. Nine of the 10 losses were by two runs or fewer.

It was a magical season from start to finish, the kind of year where everything fell into place. Dave Palmer, the Copperheads’ general manager since the club came into existence in 2002, summed it up succinctly.

“This is just cool,” Palmer said after the championship was secured.

But it’s also history. The 2019 Copperheads, as is the case with summer baseball teams, will be trying to re-kindle old magic with a largely different cast.

It’ll start on the bench where former head coach Phil Butler, now the head baseball coach at Shawnee State, will not return for a fourth season. Instead, Austin Dunfee will oversee Southern Ohio as a first-time head coach.

Dunfee, a local product and Meigs High School graduate, is familiar with the program however. He was an assistant with Butler, has helped coach the club for five years, and played for the Copperheads in 2011. He was a pitcher and graduated from Shawnee State in 2013. He’s also helped coach at Portsmouth, Southern and Meigs on the high school circuit.

Also back on the bench for a third season is assistant Connor Callery. This will be his second season as an assistant, and he’s also played two seasons with the Copperheads. In addition, he was a key player in college with the hometown Bobcats including being a key part of a MAC Championship run in 2017.

The third coach for 2019 will be Michael Blatchford. A four-year outfielder at Ohio Wesleyan, Blatchford will be in his first season as an assistant at Southern Ohio after a tour through the minor leagues — Lorain County Ironmen, Syracuse Jr. Chiefs and Chillicothe Paints — last summer.

Southern Ohio’s roster will be light on returning players, but is expected to return infielder Thomas Zazzaro. He was a sophomore infielder with Lee University this spring, played a vital role for Southern Ohio last summer and was an All-Star section in 2018 in the GLSCL.

Ohio University will have at least two players on the roster, in the form of freshmen pitchers Collin Sells and Braxton Kelly.

The GLSCL itself will be different in 2019. The league has contracted from 14 to 12 teams for the summer, and will have two six-team divisions. Southern Ohio will be in the Southern Division with regulars Licking County, Richmond, Hamilton, Cincinnati and Xenia.

Three-game series will be the norm this summer, which should give teams more chances at consecutive game days in the same locale and less travel.

The GLSCL All-Star Break is scheduled from July 14-17 and the regular season is scheduled to be completed by July 24.

2019 Southern Ohio Copperheads Schedule

Date Opponent Time

June 4 at Licking Co. 2:05 p.m.

June 5 at Licking Co. 7:05 p.m.

June 6 at Licking Co. 7:05 p.m.

June 7 RICHMOND 7:05 p.m.

June 8 RICHMOND 5:05 p.m.

June 9 RICHMOND 5:35 p.m.

June 11 CINCINNATI 11:35 a.m.

June 12 CINCINNATI 7:05 p.m.

June 13 CINCINNATI 7:05 p.m.

June 14 at Hamilton 7:05 p.m.

June 15 at Hamilton 7:05 p.m.

June 16 HAMILTON 5:35 p.m.

June 18 at Grand Lake 7:05 p.m.

June 19 at Grand Lake 7:05 p.m.

June 20 MUSKEGON 7:05 p.m.

June 21 MUSKEGON 5:35 p.m.

June 22 MICHIGAN 7:05 p.m.

June 23 MICHIGAN 5:35 p.m.

June 25 at St. Clair 7:05 p.m.

June 26 at St. Clair 7:05 p.m.

June 27 at Galion 7:05 p.m.

June 28 at Galion 7:05 p.m.

June 29 LIMA 7:05 p.m.

June 30 LIMA 5:35 p.m.

July 2 at Xenia 7:05 p.m.

July 3 at Xenia 7:05 p.m.

July 4 at Xenia 2:05 p.m.

July 5 at Cincinnati 7:05 p.m.

July 6 at Cincinnati 7:05 p.m.

July 7 at Cincinnati 6:05 p.m.

July 9 at Hamilton 7:05 p.m.

July 10 HAMILTON 5:05 p.m.

July 11 HAMILTON 7:05 p.m.

July 12 XENIA 7:05 p.m.

July 13 XENIA 7:05 p.m.

July 14 XENIA 5:35 p.m.

July 18 LICKING CO. 7:05 p.m.

July 19 LICKING CO. 7:05 p.m.

July 20 LICKING CO. 7:05 p.m.

July 21 at Richmond 5:05 p.m.

July 22 at Richmond 7:05 p.m.

July 23 at Richmond 7:05 p.m.

HOME GAMES (at Bob Wren Stadium) in ALL CAPS

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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