In the Spring of 1966 Frankie Valli took the 4 Seasons to the top of the charts with the song, “Let’s Hang On.” Fifty one years later the Minster Wildcats played their own version for a 3–1 victory over Leipsic and a trip to the Final Four.
By Stan Wilker
Hamler, Ohio – The Wildcats now advance to their 4th Final Four and will face the state’s number one ranked team from Toronto High School on Friday at Huntington Park at 10:00 a.m.
With a win at Patrick Henry High School Saturday the Wildcats capped another great spring week-end for Minster fans as the Lady Wildcat track team also brought home Regional gold.
Neither team showed any ill effects of having the game delayed by over 3 hours due to the heavy rains. It is truly amazing the game was played at all with the additional 1+ inches of rain they received last night, added to an already saturated field. The staff at Patrick Henry is to be commended for the tremendous effort put into getting the finals completed on time.
Unlike yesterday’s semi-final game, the championship game started on a very positive note for Minster. The home standing Wildcats sent sophomore hurler Jack Heitbrink to the mound and whether it was nerves, or just getting used to this setting, the young right hander gave up a pair of singles in the first frame, but wiggled out of the jam by retiring the Vikings number four and five hitters on routine plays to end the inning. This was a sign of things to come for the Putnam County League champions as they went on to strand a total of 10 runners in the game.
Buoyed by this first inning success, Minster wasted little time in taking control of the game. Lead off hitter Isaac Schmiesing was hit by a pitch, and Jon Niemeyer promptly laced a single.
Second baseman Alex Lehmkuhl followed with an RBI double moving runners to second and third bringing Ben Stubbs to the plate. In setting the stage for what would be a banner day for senior catcher, Big Ben promptly drilled a sharp double down the left field line driving in what would be Minster’s final two runs, and giving the ‘Cats a 3–0 lead after one.
While that double was certainly a difference maker, Coach Wiss suggested that his catcher would qualify for game MVP if such an award was presented.
“Ben handled our pitchers all day, he made several nice stops of potentially wild pitches, and the tag he made at the plate even had the home plate umpire marveling,” said Wiss.
The play took place in the 6th inning as the Vikings were mounting a threat. Viking first sacker Robbie Laubenthal opened with a sharp single. With speedy courtesy runner Wes Garcia moving to second on a ground ball there is an uncharacteristic Wildcat error on the throw to second allowing Viking runners to advance to first and third with no one out.
Once again, Minster rose to the occasion as Isaac Dorsten, who had just entered the game, fielded a hard shot off his foot, recovered, and fired to the Minster catcher who made a miraculous swipe tag and the first out of the inning. According to the home plate umpire, “That was one of the most athletic plays that I’ve seen in a long time. And the play wasn’t that close thanks to the Minster catcher.”
After a somewhat rocky first for both sophomore pitchers, both seemed ready to settle in. For his part Wildcat hurler Jack Heitbrink felt that getting used to the mound was a key.
“My curve was a good as it has been all year and with the defense that we have behind me, and Ben behind the plate, I felt real good,” said the Minster sophomore. So good that he retired 10 consecutive batters from the first through the fourth before issuing a pair of harmless walks.
Viking righthander Dylan Schroeder also settled in after the first issuing only 2 walks to the next 17 batters he faced. The sophomore entered the championship game with a sparkling 9–1 record and 1.71 ERA.
Minster boss Mike Wiss was most complimentary when describing Schroeder. “After the first he had us off balance, often pitching backward (throwing curves when hitters are thinking fast ball and vice versa). He is 9–1 for a reason. You know, this is what we will see from here on out.”
Leipsic squandered a scoring opportunity in the fifth as well as the afore-mentioned sixth inning. Number 8 hitter Nick Shey opened the frame with a base hit, followed by an infield pop up. Lead off hitter Cole Rieman then coaxed a walk placing runners on 1st and 2d.
The Vikings were unsuccessful in executing a sacrifice and runners remained at second and third while number three hit Dylan Schroeder and his .422 average stepped to the plate. An infield grounder resulted in an error by third baseman Adam Knapke, and as the baseball gods would have it, the junior third sacker got a chance at immediate redemption as he cleanly fielded the next grounder for an unassisted put out to end the inning.
After getting clean five innings from his sophomore right hander, Wiss knew he would go with senior Isaac Dorsten. Though the right hander allowed 2 base hits and 2 walks in his two innings, those who followed Minster this year felt good with Dorsten on the mound.
“He is our bulldog, straight–faced, strong guy, and his confidence is booming,” said Wiss.
And how will the Wildcats handle the task at hand in Columbus? Nothing seems too daunting for this group according to Wiss.
“We have shown a tendency to relax a bit when we get a lead, and that is something we will address,” said the Wildcats’ boss. “That said, with the schedule we have played, the pitchers we have seen, we feel we are as prepared as any team that we will see.”
To date the Wildcats have outscored their opponents 35–3 during tourney play. Additionally, the ‘Cats have never won the MAC in the same year that they have gone to state, something not that uncommon in this particular league.
Numbers seemingly do not make a great deal of difference to this group of Wildcats. They find different heroes, different ways to win, an ability to make the big plays at crucial times offensively and defensively, and when necessary they simply hang on.