The conditions made it tough, high wind and swirling dust, but by night’s end Friday’s district final was determined by a pair of MAC teams tough enough to overcome the unexpected…and Mother Nature.
Coldwater – It was something about which Shakespeare might have written. A cruel wind was blowing across Coldwater’s Veteran’s Field Wednesday afternoon for the first game of the Division IV district semi-finals – tormenting to would-be fielders from Fort Recovery (13-10) and Parkway (11-12) trying to catch any baseball hit in the air.
With estimated gusts up to 30 miles per hour, it was a tease to right-handed hitters, begging them to get the ball into the jet stream blowing out to left. It turned out to be was a harbinger of disaster for Recovery, who fell in run-rule fashion, 14-3, and the victim of a whopping 11 errors in the game!
Parkway left-hander Trace Walls “competed”, in the words of his coach, Luke Close. Fighting the winds and swirling dust, he struck out five of the first six outs of the game.
Recovery’s Nick Thwaits was not so fortunate. Parkway strung together three wind-blown base hits in the top of the first off the Indians’ junior fireballer, scoring Clayton Agler for a 1-0 lead and it appeared to give Parkway all the confidence they needed against the MAC’s top pitcher and Player of The Year.
The beginning seemed to set a tone for the game. Walls kept throwing strikes, and Recovery simply couldn’t make contact against them.
In the top of the third Thwaits, the MAC’s strikeout leader and Kent State commit, faced the Parkway lineup for the second time, with the same results as the first.
The Panthers jumped on an error by first baseman Reece Rogers, had a pair of back-to-back hits by Carson Ford and Logan Huff to score Clayton Agler with the game’s second run, and it appeared for the moment that it would be all the run support that Walls would need.
But Will Homan got Recovery going in the third. He reached first base on a two-out error, stole second, and then scored as Thwaits took matters into his own hands with an RBI double to left center. A batter later, that cruel wind came back to bite Walls, as Ben Homan hit a popup behind second base that baffled the shortstop, the second baseman, and the centerfielder. It fell for a double, scoring Thwaits, and the score was tied at 2-2.
Thwaits breezed through the fourth; while Walls walked one, hit one, but struck out Will Homan to escape unscathed in the bottom of the inning.
Tied at 2-2, Recovery started the fifth with an error by shortstop Ben Woman, an error by Thwaits on a sac bunt attempt and a walk to Logan Huff to load the bases with none out. A high-hoppin’ base hit over the second baseman – and an error on right fielder Ian Schoen – scored two and signaled the end of Thwaits’ day on the mound.
Baseball can be cruel, as Indians reliever Cade Wendel found when he took the mound. A walk and a passed ball scored another run – 5-2. Another walk loaded the bases, still with none out. After a force for the first out, Parkways’ Shay Pond hit another popup behind first, on the dirt, that the wind twisted between three converging fielders. It fell, Recovery committed three more errors throwing the ball to second, home plate, and third base; and a double to the left center gap by Alex Schoenleben emptied the bases, scoring two more.
Not done, Clayton Agler slammed a double over the head of the center fielder and Recovery played that into a four-base error that scored Agler to make the score 10-2. By the time the onslaught ended, eight runs had scored on two hits, two walks, and SEVEN errors in the inning.
Cruel, made crueler in the top of the fifth when Parkway scored four more, aided by two more Recovery errors (unofficially, and uncharacteristically, 11 for the game), to make the score 14-2.
Walls retired the first two outs in the bottom of the fifth, but after 102 pitches he was relieved by Logan Huff who gave up a run before retiring the final out for the surprising, run-rule, outcome.
“We’ve beaten Thwaits on both occasions we’ve played Recovery when he pitched,” said Clouse. “But you don’t expect a team like that to have the trouble they had today, the errors they had today. There were some balls that usually get caught that the wind just took over.
“Lot a credit to Trace Walls. He’s first team all-league for us and we count on him. He battled, and he gave us all he had today.”
In game two of Wednesday’s semi-final, Minster (16-10) met Delphos St. John (16-10), the winner to meet Parkway on Friday at 7 pm for the district title. The two teams had met three weeks earlier with St. John claiming a 4-3 win.
It, too, got off to an ominous start – an interference call on Minster batter Isaac Schmiesing for colliding with St. John pitcher Jake Youngpeter as he attempted to field a high hop ground ball along the first base line, and an ensuing hit batsman. However, no one crossed home plate and neither team could mount much of a scoring threat…until the top of the fourth.
Jonathan Niemeyer led off with a double down the left field line and moved to third on a sac bunt attempt by Ben Stubbs. Minster coach Mike Wiss then rolled the dice with a safety squeeze, scoring Niemeyer from third with Stubbs moving on to third with one out. Youngpeter, a Toledo commit with a high-80s fastball, then walked Bryce Schmiesing and Jack Heitbrink to load the bases…and walked in a second run when he couldn’t throw strikes to Adam Knapke, the eighth hitter in the order. He finally struck out Jared Huelsman for the third out in the inning.
An inning later Niemeyer again flaired a double down the left field line to lead off the inning. He advanced to third on a passed ball, but could not score as Youngpeter righted himself to retire the side without allowing Niemeyer to score. As it turned out, Niemeyer’s doubles were the only two hits the Wildcats would get.
Youngpeter was dealing, striking out eight through the first five innings. But Minster’s Aaron Ernst was matching him in effectiveness…an assortment of fastballs and a tantalizing curve that kept Delphos hitters off balance. A hit here, a hit there, but a double play here, a fine defensive play there kept the Blue Jays off the board.
They finally mounted a challenge in the bottom of the fifth on an error by second baseman Alex Lemkuhl that allowed the Blue Jays’ Colin Will to reach second. One hitter later Lemkuhl atoned for that error by catching a line drive and doubling Will off second for the final out.
Again in the sixth the wind played a part, blowing around a Delphos popup between Minster’s shortstop and third baseman that allowed the leadoff runner to reach. But another double play, Minster’s third of the game, cleaned the bases and kept Ernst out of trouble.
Youngpeter finished his seven innings with an impressive 11 strikeouts, but five walks…and those three in the top of the fourth…proved to be his undoing.
Ernst went to the mound in the bottom of the seventh trying to make his team’s two hits – the two doubles by Jonathan Niemeyer – and two runs stand.
He struck out Aaron Reindel for the first out.
Josh Warnecke hit a high hopper to shortstop for an infield hit.
He retired Colin Will on a grounder to second base.
And with Warnecke standing on second base…he struck out Troy Elwer for the game’s final out.
Two runs, two hits and an error for Minster – no runs on five hits and an error for Delphos St. John. Cruel to the effort and competitiveness of Jacob Youngpeter, but rewarding to Aaron Ernst for finding a way to equally compete…and win!
“Credit to our defense and to Aaron Ernst,” said Minster’s Mike Wiss afterwards. “I knew that if Aaron was on it would be a close game. I knew that if Youngpeter was on we were going have to really play well.”
And to the play of his defense, Aaron Ernst beamed at the mention of those three double plays.
“Pitcher’s best friend,” he conceded. “And we knew that they might have trouble with the curveball, so that was our plan.”
Minster will now meet Parkway on Friday for the district title.
“They’re a different team than we saw a couple of weeks ago,” said Wiss. “Their pitcher is done (Walls) and Ernst is done so it’ll be a game of twos and threes (secondary pitchers). I’m happy for our kids and glad to come back on Friday.”
And glad to come back, no doubt, to a better forecast…low 80s, partly cloudy and a chance of an early shower. But no wind.