|Written by Jeff Falk|
| Hard work, dedication, talent and chemistry made members of the Cedar Crest baseball team deserving champions. But the District Three crown the Falcons earned recently may have been just as important to the program itself, as well as the man who currently heads it.
When the Falcons defeated South Western 6-2 on Friday in Hershey it marked their first championship of any kind under head coach Chris Groff. A win earlier, Cedar Crest had presented Groff with his first trip to states.
Prior to Friday, the Falcons’ most notable accomplishment under Groff was qualifying for the District Three playoffs for four straight years – something which requires a team to simply win more games than it loses during the regular season.
“I’m very proud of the teams I had the last few years,” said Groff. “With those players, we had a lot of success. But as special as they were, they didn’t even come close to accomplishing what this team did. This is much bigger for me. And it builds my confidence, because I’m my hardest critic.
“It’s probably just as important for kids like (Derrick) Osteen and (Derek) Kline, and all the kids who came through the program,” Groff continued. “We put it together. It’s (a district championship) certainly a huge goal for me, and I want more. I’m not going to be satisfied with one.”
During the decades of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Cedar Crest baseball was one of the most successful athletic programs in Lebanon County. Under Groff’s predecessor, Bill Dissinger, the Falcons made yearly trips to the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs, won bi-annual section titles and captured as many L-L championships as anyone in the league.
“When I was playing at Northern Lebanon, Section One was Lebanon County and rivalry after rivalry,” said Groff, who was an all-star caliber player during his playing days in the mid-90s. “Cedar Crest was the bigger school and our huge rivals. All of Cedar Crest’s best players and Northern Lebanon’s best players came together at the end of the season at Fredericksburg (legion). What I remember is playing against my teammates.
“I know Bill (Dissinger) did a good job with those guys,” continued Groff. “They had strong pitching, good ball players and great athletes. I knew when I was a JV coach, I wanted it (the head coaching position) when Bill stepped aside. He had some outstanding teams.”
Very competitive as a player, not much has changed for Chris Groff, the coach.
“I think the only pressure I felt I put on myself,” said Groff. “I was always that way as a player. I put tremendous pressure on myself. I was surprised to get it (the head coaching position) at such a young age, 25. When I got it, I was just totally excited. But I’ve never felt pressure from the athletic director, just myself.”
Prior to this year’s, Groff’s teams were always very competitive. And while they included some very talented players, there was always something that seemed to be missing.
“We’ve had some good players in my eight years,” said Groff. “But we finally grouped some good players together. Before, they were kind of spread out. Now we’ve got a good core-group of players. Life is all about timing.
“Our numbers in the program have exploded,” added Groff. “Last year, we had to cut 25-30 kids. Baseball is just contagious. The depth we have up and down the lineup was the same as (Manheim) Township’s, Hempfield’s, Warwick’s and Penn Manor’s (in Section One). The difference this year is depth, and you have to have it.”
Things like championships and winning have ways of festering, growing and taking on a lives of themsevles. Before a coach knows it, he has a full-blown, time-tested, successful program on his hands.
“It’s huge,” said Groff. “Any time you’re trying to build a program or remain at the top like we’re trying to do, winning is important. To pull this off and all the publicity our guys are getting is unbelievable. Winning, it’s like a chain reaction. And we know we have a very good team coming back next year.”
So when everything is said and done, the lasting legacy of the 2010 edition of Cedar Crest might be of the one that ‘restarted it all’.
“The guys make it special,” said Groff. “These kids have worked so hard, whether it’s waking up at six a.m. for summer workouts or working out in the weight room. Part of it is we’re set up as a very good tournament team. We have three potential number one pitchers. And we have hitters who got hot at the right time.
“But the key has been the integrity, the chemistry,” Groff added. “They like to play baseball. They like to play together. They play hard. We may be talented. But they’re baseball players, and they go hard.
“My guys, in the last four games, produced. They’re very deserving of what they’ve done.”