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Patriots a smash for Grabner

In a game honoring longtime assistant Don Grabner, who died in April,, the Heritage baseball team won 11-1.

Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Heritage’s Branson Dossen slides into home to score in the fifth inning. The Heritage players wore jerseys worn by assistant coach Don Grabner, who died April 22.
Heritage 11, Central Noble 1

Patriots win in tribute to late longtime coach

Heritage’s Wil Knapke celebrates his three-run home run in the bottom of the third inning Monday.

– Every hit. Every throw. Every smile. And even that towering home run into left field.

It was all for Don Grabner.

In tribute to the longtime assistant baseball coach, who died April 22 at the age of 90, the Patriots all donned jerseys from Grabner’s closet Monday.

That there were enough to clothe an entire team was a testament to how long and how much he influenced the program.

“Don was a big part of this program for many, many, many years and influenced generations of ballplayers. He coached fathers of three or four of the players on the roster right now. They know, the dads know and the kids know that he was a big part of a lot of the success here,” said head coach Dean Lehrman, after the Patriots defeated Central Noble 11-1 in a six-inning game.

So what would Grabner, who had coached baseball since the 1940s, have said about this game, in which the Patriots outhit the Cougars 11-1 but still had three errors and some messy play?

“I think he would have growled a lot,” Lehrman said. “We were a little sloppy.”

A day after he would have turned 91, the Heritage coaches wore Grabner’s No. 24 pinstriped home jerseys, while the players wore Grabner’s road jerseys of various numbers and colors.

Senior Landon Harris came up with the concept for the tribute after seeing the movie “42” and remembering the yearly acknowledgment to Jackie Robinson in the major leagues, when players wear his No. 42 to commemorate Robinson breaking the color barrier.

Whenever a Heritage player was announced Monday, the surname Grabner was tacked on to the end of it.

“We came out and did what we had to do for coach Grabner. This was a game that he loved. We came out and played it for him and it was a good game,” said senior Wil Knapke, who was 2 for 3 with five RBI.

Heritage (8-4) took a one-run lead in the first inning on sophomore Branson Dossen’s sacrifice fly.

By the time Knapke smacked his three-run home run in the third inning, the Patriots were up 6-0.

“It happens. He put it in my spot and I hit it hard and it just kept going,” Knapke said.

In the fifth inning, he had a two-run double for an 8-0 lead off Cougars pitcher Kevin Kennedy, who allowed nine hits and 10 runs but struck out six and walked three in five innings.

The lone Central Noble (2-12) run came from sophomore Brock Noe, who stole home in the fifth inning while there was a player in a run down between first and second.

Heritage’s starting pitcher, junior Cole Gerardot, allowed one hit and struck out seven, while walking two in five innings. At the plate, he had a bunt single, a stolen base and two walks.

jcohn@jg.net

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