Eastside baseball coach Aaron Willard

Eastside baseball coach Aaron Willard (25) talks with his players following the team’s loss in the Class 2A state championship game June 21. Willard guided the Blazers to a program-best 26 victories this season.

Do you remember the first time Eastside went to state in baseball?

In the years ahead, Blazer fans will be talking about the 2021 team which had its season canceled by a pandemic the year before, then came within one game of winning it all the next year.

Stories and memories will abound as the community thinks back to a team that just kept getting better, and gave its green-clad faithful more and more reason to believe.

The Blazers’ success is reflected in the KPC Media Group All-Area baseball team, on which the top awards not only went to the same team, but the same family.

Owen Willard, the team’s pitching ace with pinpoint control and a downright wicked breaking ball, is the All-Area Prep of the Year.

His father, Aaron Willard, who guided the Blazers to their magical 26-7 season, is the All-Area Coach of the Year.

Owen Willard was undefeated until the Class 2A state championship game loss to Providence. He finished 9-1 with three saves and had an ERA of less than 1.00. In 79 innings of work, he struck out 136 while walking only 21.

The All-Northeast Corner Conference first-teamer was also a force on offense for Eastside, hitting .484 with a .581 on-base percentage. He drove in 32 runs and scored 35, and stole 14 bases.

Aaron Willard has been a winner in every sport he’s coached at Eastside, and fell just short in his bid to become the first coach to win a state title in both softball and baseball. He steered the Blazer softball team to the Class 1A state crown in 1998. He also won a sectional in the one-class tournament as a boys basketball coach.

Willard picked up his 100th baseball coaching win during the Blazers’ tournament run. He coached them to a sectional title for the third time, and the Blazers brought the program its first regional and semi-state championships.

Eastside also won the Northeast Corner Conference regular-season and tournament titles.

The rest of this year’s All-Area team:

Dylan Hertig, Sr., C, Eastside: Hertig anchored a smooth Blazer defense and earned All-NECC first-team recognition. He batted .299 with three home runs, 30 RBIs and 11 doubles.

Caleb Vanover, Sr., OF, Eastside: Vanover had a big senior year, hitting .344 and driving in 25 runs. He had five doubles and one home run while earning first-team all-conference honors.

Wade Miller, Sr., OF, Eastside: Miller helped make the Blazers strong up the middle on defense. He hit .225 with a .422 on-base percentage, and had four home runs and 26 RBIs. He was first-team All-NECC.

Kameron Colclasure, Sr., SS-P, Fremont: Colclasure hit .458 with six homers and 41 RBIs and was first-team all-conference. He scored 53 runs with 10 doubles and six triples. He went 6-3 with a 3.04 ERA on the mound with 53 strikeouts and 27 walks in 53 innings.

Ethan Bock, Jr., 2B-P, Fremont: Bock batted .495 while driving in 25 runs and scoring 29. The All-NECC pick was 6-1 with a 1.40 ERA pitching, and fanned 30 in 35 innings for the sectional runners-up.

Nick Miller, Jr., C, Fremont: Miller earned All-NECC first-team honors after hitting .462 with two homers and 44 RBIs. He had 16 doubles and a .521 on-base percentage.

Gabel Pentecost, Jr., P-3B, Fremont: Pentecost went 5-3 with a 1.09 ERA and 90 K’s in 57 2/3 innings. He batted .398 with 24 RBIs and 29 runs scored, and was named to the All-NECC first team.

Brayden Risedorph, Jr., P-3B, East Noble: The Knights’ ace earned first-team All-Northeast 8 recognition after going 3-3 with a 2.00 ERA, and 60 strikeouts in 35 innings. He hit .324 with five home runs and 26 RBIs.

Justin Marcellus, Sr., 3B, East Noble: Marcellus batted .388, scoring 31 runs and driving in 25. He also stole 20 bases and was a first-team All-NE8 selection.

Walker Leamon, Sr., OF, East Noble: Leamon covered the ground in center field and was an offensive spark with a .373 average, 17 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. He was an All-NE8 first-teamer.

Riley Meade, Sr., P-SS, East Noble: Meade was a .343 hitter with 16 RBIs and 17 steals. The All-NE8 second-teamer went 4-2 pitching with a 1.37 ERA. He struck out 36 and walked just four in 35 2/3 innings.

Aric Ehmke, Sr., P-SS, DeKalb: Selected for the IHSBCA North-South All-Star Series, Ehmke had a 7-2 pitching record and a 2.09 ERA. In 57 innings, he fanned 102 and walked 24. He also hit .465 with a .558 on-base percentage, with six home runs, 23 RBIs, 11 doubles and 55 runs scored.

Steele Jackson, Sr., OF, DeKalb: Jackson batted .418 with a .514 on-base percentage while making the Baron defense solid up the middle. He had five homers, 16 doubles and 30 RBIs.

Nolan Nack, Sr., 3B, DeKalb: Nack hit .440 and drove in 32 runs for the sectional runners-up. He had nine doubles and scored 39 runs.

Alex Leslie, So., C-OF-DH, DeKalb: Leslie had a .379 batting average and a .468 on-base percentage. He drove in 31 runs and had seven doubles.

Zak Hill, Jr., C, Angola: Hill caught every inning of every game for the Hornets. The All-NECC first-teamer hit at a .438 clip.

Evan Snyder, Sr. 1B-P, Churubusco: Snyder earned first-team All-NECC honors with a .432 average and .519 on-base percentage. He had two home runs, 10 doubles and 32 RBIs, and struck out only six times in 108 plate appearances. He was 2-0 pitching with one save and 36 K’s in 25 2/3 innings.

Brayten Gordon, Sr., OF, Churubusco: The All-NECC first-teamer hit .360 with a .517 on-base percentage. He scored 40 runs and drove in 20 with two homers, six doubles and four triples.

Brayden Bontrager, Sr., P-OF-1B, Lakeland: Bontrager led the Lakers in 10 statistical categories and was first-team All-NECC. He had a 3.23 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings. He hit .400 with 24 RBIs and eight doubles.

Gage Smith, Sr., P-3B, Garrett: Smith made the all-conference team with a .385 average and a .452 on-base percentage, and had four homers and 33 RBIs. He was 5-2 as a pitcher with a 1.48 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 52 innings.

Trey Richards, Jr., 1B, Garrett: The All-NECC first-teamer hit .329 with a .491 on-base percentage, and struck out just 11 times in 114 plate appearances. He made just two errors in the field.

Graham Kelham, Jr., P-SS, Garrett: Kelham batted .352 with a .427 on-base percentage. He scored 30 runs and was 17-of-18 in steals. The All-NECC pick had a 3-2 pitching mark with 50 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings.

Dylan Eggl, Sr., DH, Central Noble: Eggl batted .469 and drove in 29 runs for the regional runners-up. He made the All-NECC first team.

Jaxon Copas, Fr., 3B-P, Central Noble: Copas was a .407 hitter with 27 RBIs in his first varsity season, and earned first-team all-conference recognition.

Cade Weber, Jr., P-3B, Central Noble: Weber had 37 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings. He won all of his postseason starts to key a strong tournament run by the Cougars.

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