COLDWATER — Both “power ball” and “small ball” were played by Mike Wiss’ Minster Wildcats over the weekend. And each was “winning ball,” propelling Minster to the state tournament in Akron on Friday.
The Wildcats scratched for a run in the second inning on Sunday and made it stand up with solid defense and excellent one-hit pitching in route to a 1-0 Division IV regional championship victory over Cincinnati Christian (18-6). Junior Ethan Lehmkuhl sparkled with 4 2/3 innings of superb relief.
In Saturday’s regional semifinal, Jack Olberding cranked the first pitch of the game for a long homer, August Boehnlein drove in five with three hits, and the ‘Cats (22-7) pounced on Mechanicsburg for three in the first before an out was recorded. In a five-inning, run-rule finish, Minster put a 13-2 thumping on the Indians, who are coached by 2003 Coldwater grad Bryan Eyink. He had guided his school to its first-ever regional.
Minster has now won a dozen straight and in these contests has outscored its opponents 126-14. The Orange and Black, which captured the state crown two years ago, will open the Final Four in Akron on Friday at 4 p.m.. Fourth-rated, two-loss Jeromesville Hillsdale, which crushed its regional foes 7-1 and 16-2, is Minster’s state semi opposition.
“I liked where we were coming into the weekend,” said Wiss, the 25-year head coach at Minster. “I like us even better now after pulling out a pressure-packed, one-run contest in the region final.”
Minster’s bats had powered the club to 38 runs in the regional semi and in two district triumphs over number two-ranked Van Wert Lincolnview and number twelve-ranked New Bremen. However, “small ball” was the name of the game on Sunday.
Wiss pointed out that bats can break open games, but pitching and defense can break down an opponent. And Cincinnati Christian could not break through with a game tying run versus Minster, despite leaving 13 men on base, including 10 who walked. The Cougars’ first and only base knock came with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Their star hitter Mitchell Smith went hitless for the weekend.
The ‘Cats Trent Roetgerman ripped two singles and tallied the only run of the day when he raced home from second base on a Cougars’ bad throw from second to first which could have concluded a double play and ended the second inning.
Lehmkuhl was sharp backing up starter Jack Heitbrink on the mound, as he delivered 44 of his 78 pitches for strikes and fanned three.
Pitching was also the theme on Saturday when the Russia Raiders (13-17) were nipped by Cincinnati Christian, 2-1, in the second region semi. Daniel Kearns and the Cougars’ Smith allowed only two hits apiece.
Kevin Philpot’s Raiders, who were making their fourth regional appearance in five years, snapped the scoreless deadlock with a run in the fourth. Carter Francis led off by reaching on a dropped third strike. He zipped home on Grant Saunders’ two-bagger.
The Cougars tied the game in the bottom of the inning on a short sacrifice fly and won it with two outs in the seventh on a bloop single.
Philpot noted that a “break” for one of the two clubs was going to decide the game. “We can hold our heads high,” he said. “A flair beat us.”
Kearns struck out nine in a super pitching performance.
The Raiders graduate eight seniors: Kearns, Francis, Zach Bergman, Gavin George, Evan Monnier, Tyler Scott, Will Sherman, and Jordan York. Patrolling centerfield, York made two splendid catches on Saturday.
“They were all outstanding leaders,” Philpot pointed out.
Russia began the year losing its first seven outings and later won seven of eleven heading to the regional while riding a three-game win string. The strong stretch run included a ten inning sectional triumph over arch-rival and defending state champ Fort Loramie.
The D-IV Thursday-Friday regional tourney was originally set for Springfield, but was moved to Coldwater’s Veterans Field following numerous rains in Clark County and six changes in times for the opening contest. After a several hour delay on Friday, umpires deemed the outfield had too much standing water on it and declared that Carleton Davidson Stadium was unplayable.
Coldwater (25-6) edged Archbold, 5-4, to win its D-III northwest regional at Elida on Friday and thus plays Cincinnati Roger Bacon, which downed Versailles, in Akron this Saturday at 4 p.m. A few of the Cavalier players helped prep the field for the D-IV tourney tilts on Saturday and Sunday. Coldwater and Minster now bid to bring back to the Midwest Athletic Conference (MAC) two state titles in baseball in the same year.
In 2003, St. Henry earned the D-III crown and Minster was runner-up in D-IV.
“The great winning tradition of our conference schools and the tough schedule we play prepare us well for the post-season,” said Wiss, whose Minster team finished only fifth and 4-5 this spring in the highly competitive MAC, before “power ball” and “small ball” started to click.
Needless to say, Minster’s got the ball rolling now, as it aims for state championship number four in the last nine years.