AKRON — Minster’s recent hot hitting streak was stopped by Jeromesville Hillsdale pitcher Jay Luikart in a Division IV state semifinal on Friday in Akron.
The Wildcats — which had outscored their previous 12 opponents 126-14 before Friday — struck out nine times against Luikart and managed two hits.
The Falcons didn’t have much more success against Minster ace Austin Brown, but they scored a run in the second and led the rest of the way in a 1-0 victory that ends Minster’s season.
“Jay threw the ball very well, which we knew he was capable of doing,” Minster coach Mike Wiss said.
Hillsdale (28-2) advances to face either Antwerp or Toronto in the Div. IV state championship game at 1 p.m. on Sunday in Akron. Antwerp and Toronto played in Friday’s second semifinal, which was not completed before press deadline.
Minster finishes 22-8 overall. The Wildcats dropped to 10-7 after a 4-1 loss to Parkway on May 2 but won 12 consecutive games before Friday’s loss. They started the season 6-1 but struggled in the middle part, especially after the death of teammate Jackson Hogenkamp in early April. Hogenkamp, a sophomore, died after a lengthy battle with cancer.
“That hit us in the middle of the year,” Wiss said. “It was tough on everybody and tough on the community of Minster, because we’re a tight-knit bunch. …We had to battle through that. A lot of that ended up being psychology, as you can imagine with high school kids. But we didn’t let that tear us down. We made that into something that brought us together.”
Luikart, a senior left-hander who will play collegiately at Wright State, was masterful. He needed 91 pitches (62 of which were strikes) to get through seven innings and walked three batters. After struggling in the fourth, he allowed one base runner the rest of the way and struck out four of the final six batters he faced.
“Jay is a bulldog, and when we got to the fourth and realized he still had a good 60 pitches in him, we were feeling pretty good,” Hillsdale coach Jason Snow said. “… I thought he had a little more life to his fastball after that inning. He relies on his fastball a majority of the time, and I thought they were swinging early at it. He just threw a heck of a game.”
Brown, a junior lefty, pitched a complete game and allowed three hits while striking out five batters and giving up three walks.
Wiss, who pitched collegiately at Dayton, said he was happy with Brown’s effort — especially considering the game started over two hours late due to a 13-inning Division I semifinal between Hilliard Darby and Cleveland St. Ignatius lasting nearly four hours.
“I’m very happy with how Austin approached the game, especially after that layoff with the long game before us” Wiss said. “He had four pitches for strikes. …Pitching ahead after that two-hour wait is gutsy. As an ex-pitcher, that’s gutsy. That’s something that as a coach, you love to see — the competitive edge of high school kids like that. Both those guys will do very well in college.”
Briar Funk led off the second inning with a single to left field. After Ty Williams drew a walk, Garrett Crites hit a sacrifice groundout, then Evan Rottman hit a sacrifice flyout to score Funk.
“When you love baseball, you know baseball can come down to some baby little things,” Wiss said. “A single, walk, sacrifice and sacrifice was the ball game. …It happens that fast in baseball.”
The Wildcats’ first hit came in the fourth inning and provided their best chance to score. After Noah Enneking hit a single to center field, Jack Heitbrink and August Boehnlein each struck out swinging.
Brown and Trent Roetgerman each drew walks to load the bases, but Adam Ketner then struck out looking to end the inning.
Jacob Niemeyer led off the fifth with a single up the middle and then advanced to third after a sacrifice groundout by Mike Ketner and a sacrifice flyout by Jack Olberding. Enneking grounded out to end the inning.
“We’ve talked multiple times that tournament games are won with two-out hits,” Wiss said. “We didn’t get those hits on this day.”
Minster will lose five seniors to graduation: Enneking, Mike Ketner, Heitbrink, Owen Dorsten and Boehnlein. Heitbrink, Boehnlein, Enneking and Ketner were everyday players.
It was the fourth state appearance since 2011 for Minster, which won state titles in ’11, ’12 and ’17.