MINSTER — Jeromesville Hillsdale finished ahead of Minster in the final high school baseball coaches state poll for Division IV. And, for the record, so did 26 other teams.
But as Hillsdale coach Jason Snow will tell you, the Falcons — and many of those other teams — are playing catchup when it comes to matching Minster’s state tournament experience.
Minster (22-7), making its sixth state tournament appearance, plays No. 4-ranked and state first-timer Hillsdale (22-2) in the D-IV semifinals 4 p.m. Friday.
Antwerp (19-5) and No. 6 Toronto (25-5) play in the other semifinal at 7 p.m. The winners meet 1 p.m. for the state championship. All games are at Akron’s Canal Park, the home of the Akron RubberDucks and the Cleveland Indians’ Double-AA minor league affiliate.
“Usually you hear it more on the football end, but still a great tradition,” Hillsdale coach Jason Snow said of Minster’s state titles in 2011, 2012 and 2017. “(Coach Mike Wiss) has been there for awhile and he has a lot more experience in these situations. … For Minster, just that tradition of being there it’s almost an expectation. Coming up those kids know this is what it’s about. That’s what we’re hoping to gain with our kids. We’ve been very successful the last four years but haven’t got over the district hump until this year.”
Five seniors lead the Wildcats into the semifinals with August Boehnlein, Owen Dorsten, Jack Heitbrink, Noah Enneking and Mike Ketner. Heitbrink is the last remaining regular from the 2017 state championship team, throwing a complete game in Minster’s 2-1 victory against Russia.
Heitbrink (6-2, 1.30 ERA), junior Austin Brown (5-0, 0.93) and junior Ethan Lehmkuhl (6-2, 1.99) are the aces in a formidable pitching staff.
“Offense can come and go. Pitching and defense in this sport will never leave you,” Wiss said. “If you good pitching and you play good defense behind it, you can survive those days when your hitting is a little off.”
Offensively, Heitbrink leads the offense with a .494 batting average and 33 runs batted in. Junior Jack Olberding (.444, 31 RBI, 38 runs), Brown (.364), junior Trent Roetgerman (.330) and sophomore Adam Ketner (.310) are also hitting above .300 for the Wildcats, who hit .321 as a team and have scored 221 runs.
Olberding is the key at lead-off, while Enneking, Heibrink and Boehnlein give Minster some big bats through the first four spots in the order.
Hillsdale counters with seniors Jay Luikart (10-0, 0.68) and Garrett Goodwin (8-1). Luikart is also the top hitter with a .505 average, 11 home runs, 54 RBIs and 46 runs scored. Goodwin (.443), Carsten Betson (.412) and Garret Crites (.409) have helped the Falcons hit .388 as a team with 325 runs scored (11.2 per game).
Minster, which started the season 6-1, struggled mentally and physically following the loss of teammate Jackson Hogenkamp. The popular sophomore died of bone cancer on April 6. The team rallied around each other following a few team meetings and enter the state semifinals on a 12-game winning streak, including a 1-0 victory over Fairfield Cincinnati Christian in the D-IV regional championship on Sunday.
“Before we started this run of going from 10-7 to 22-7, we weren’t playing with the lead. We were struggling a little bit,” Wiss said. “ … It just seems like this group is pretty resilient. They’ve battled through some tough times this season, one of them being the loss of a teammate. It was a difficult time and we battled through it. These are life lessons.
“You’re as good as your seniors. Right now our seniors are playing good baseball.”
That’s why the Minster faithful like their chances on Friday. Well, that and the Wildcats’ schedule. Minster finished tied for fifth in the Midwest Athletic Conference at 4-5. The Wildcats other two losses came to Fort Loramie and Anna.
“We pride ourselves on what our schedule has done for us at this point,” Wiss said. “By going through our league and the Shelby County League and Western Buckeye League, in the past few years having that kind of schedule has prepared us.
“I understand what people may say or hear across the state (about the MAC), but honestly to a guy that’s now lived it for 25 years and lived it as a kid, it’s very true. We pride ourselves on who we play.”
Minster also knocked off Van Wert Lincolnview, the co-D-IV state poll champions with Berlin Hiland, 14-1 in the district semifinals.
For Minster’s seniors, this will be their fourth state tournament appearance. The Wildcats were the D-VII football state runners-up in 2016, the 2017 D-VII football state champions and the D-IV baseball state champs in 2017.
Minster also goes for its third state title this school year. The girls won the D-III cross country state title in 2018 and the girls basketball team won the D-IV state basketball title in 2019.
Minster has 36 state titles overall.
“I’m sure some of them are very aware of that,” Snow said of Minster’s state success. “But I think they have confidence in themselves. We’ve had a nice run and all we can do is go out, do what we do best and see what happens.”