By STEVE KRAH
Jason Dowler may be a “rookie” as first-year head coach of the Union City (Ind.) Community Junior-Senior High School baseball team.
But his relationship with many Union City players goes back to when they were little boys.
Freshmen Owen Dowler (Jason’s son), Zack Fulk and Corbin Richards and sophomore Jude Connor all played together on Dylan’s Dawgs — a team named in honor of Dylan Williams who was killed during an 8U all-star practice in 2013. Owen Dowler was Dylan’s rec ball teammate.
Dylan Williams would have been a sophomore in 2021.
Having coached and observed them for years, Jason Dowler knew those younger players very well.
“My job was to figure everybody else out,” says Dowler, who saw the Indians win the IHSAA Class 1A Seton Catholic Sectional and punch their ticket to the Carroll (Flora) Regional on Saturday, June 5.
In winning the program’s third sectional title — and first since 2018 — Union City bested Tri, Seton Catholic and Blue River Valley by a combined 27-0 at Don McBride Stadium in Richmond.
Senior Hunter Reagan started on the mound and Owen Dowler finished against Tri. The Seton Catholic game began Friday and was postponed to Saturday because of rain. Sophomore Camden LaFuze started it Friday and Reagan finished it Saturday.
The postponement also meant that Seton, which beat Randolph Southern with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District H Player of the Year and Miami (Ohio) University commit Luke Leverton, was able to go back to the hard-throwing right-hander at the beginning of Saturday’s game.
As Leverton left the mound after three innings, Union City was up 1-0. When Leverton came to the plate in a key spot late in the game, Dowler had him intentionally walked and UC went on to a 5-0 triumph and the sectional championship game on Monday, which was pitched by LaFuze. The Indians blanked Blue River Valley 6-0.
“We’ve been dominant on the mound and our defense is playing very well right now,” says Dowler. “A lot of games we lost we beat ourselves (with errors and too many walks by the pitching staff).”
The Indians were 2-7 in the nine games heading into the tournament.
Dowler says there was a team meeting that turned things around.
“We said we can beat ourselves or start playing some good Indian baseball,” says Dowler. “It’s a very simple sport. We as players and coaches overthink it.
“We can make it difficult or we can make it easy on ourselves. We’ve tried to work smarter and not harder.”
Union City has operated by a motto: “Just compete, man.”
“If we lose, we lose,” says Dowler. “But we’re not going to beat ourselves.
“Go out there and compete and have fun.”
Dowler insists that his pitchers throw strikes and let their defense have the opportunity to get outs.
Above all, he wants them to be bold.
“You are going to make errors and you are going to strike out,” says Dowler. “Baseball is a mindset. You have to be confident.”
There are 10 active players on the youthful Union City team. The starting lineup features freshmen Owen Dowler (first base), Fulk (second base) and Richards (catcher) and sophomores Connor (third base) and LaFuze (pitcher).
“It’s challenging mentally for these kids to walk up to a baseball field and other team is sporting 17 to 19 kids and we walk up with just enough to play,” says Dowler. “But we have a different mindset. We don’t let that effect us. It’s not your dream, but you deal with what you’ve got.”
Union City (10-13) takes on Cowan (13-13) at 10 a.m. Saturday. A win sends them into the 8 p.m. championship game against the winner of Riverton Parke (21-9) vs. Clinton Central (16-11).
A wrinkle for the Indians is that graduation is at 3 p.m., so they would make the 2 1/2-hour trip each way from Flora to Union City and back — something that happened in 2018.
Union City (located on the Indiana-Ohio line with an enrollment around 240) is a member of the Tri-Eastern Conference (with Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Hagerstown, Knightstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union County and Winchester).
With the latest trophy-taking, Union City has won three sectional titles. The previous championships came in 2012 and 2018.
Home games are played on the Union City campus. This year the team sold soap to raise funds to upgrade the facility.
Dowler says he wants to get the local Pony League thriving again.
“To be successful you have to have a feeder program,” says Dowler.
His assistant coaches at the high school are Rick Lacy, Kevin Lehman and Jacob Fulk. Lacy has been around Union City for about four decades in various capacities. Lehman keeps the scorebook for the Indians and was on South Adams’ state runner-up team in 1972. Fulk, the older brother of Zack, was on the 2018 sectional championship team and played one season and the University of Northwestern Ohio. He is Dowler’s pitching coach.
Dowler played soccer at Union City and graduated in 1998. He owns his own heating and cooling business in town — Comfort Systems.
Jason and wife Amy Dowler have two children — Kahlee and Owen. Jason coached daughter Kahlee in softball and transitioned to baseball with son Owen. Kahlee Dowler, who will be a senior at Ball State University in the fall, was a three-sport athlete at Union City — cross country, basketball and softball. She was a junior on the Class 1A state runner-up girls basketball squad in 2017.
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