The D-IV portion of this year’s State Baseball Tourney will provide the most compelling matchup in this weekend’s season ending tournament. And everyone in Press Pros country will be cheering for a Minster-Russia rematch.
By Stan Wilker
Columbus – As charter members of one the premier small school conferences in the State of Ohio, the Minster Wildcats are intimately familiar with the chase for the ultimate OHSAA prize, the gold trophy presented at the conclusion of each sport’s season to the last team standing.
With the 2016–17 school year about to conclude, the Midwest Athletic Conference has amassed a total of 119 of these gold trophies, which is made even more remarkable when one considers the MAC is a relative new comer as leagues go. They commenced play in 1973.
Though Minster is closer to the bottom of the MAC in terms of number of students, they lead the pack with a total of 29 state titles. Entering the state baseball Final Four the Wildcats looked to add trophy number 30 to the bulging trophy case. Pulling this off would be no easy task as the number one team in the state, the Toronto Red Knights stood in the way. The team from Eastern Ohio has won back to back poll titles and they entered the game with a lineup loaded with hitters; the first five to bat carry averages over .40o.
Both schools enterws the semifinals Friday as traditional Ohio powerhouses. Toronto has been to 23 consecutive district games, and finished 16–1 in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference. They played in their first Final Four in 1987, and then won their first State title in 1998 when current head coach Brian Perkins was an assistant. When asked about this year’s team Coach Perkins stated, “We’re a relatively young group with only 3 seniors on the roster, but they are great leaders.
“We stepped up our schedule this year, adding teams like Hiland, Boardman, and Canfield. In fact, the Hiland game allowed us to discover some of our weaknesses as they did some things to us that we were not prepared for after the fifth inning in a 2–2 game. Though we lost the game, we gained valuable experience.”
The Minster Wildcats have established quite a tradition on their own playing in a league, and a challenging non-league schedule, that is filled with baseball powers known across Ohio. After 400-plus wins and three state appearances, including back to back titles in 2011 and 2012, Mike Wiss has entered the Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.
But for the veteran coach this not about him. He is quick to credit his assistants, five of whom he has coached. Wiss said, “Having this staff is akin to what Marion Local and Coldwater have in football, staffs that have been together for a long time, and everyone knows what to expect.”
When asked about the Red Knights the Minster mentor simply shook his head saying, “They have 2 Ohio State bound players and one heading for Ashland. Their first 5 batters are all hitting over .400, and their pitching is pretty good.”
Wildcat players echoed their coach’s assessment, showing nothing but respect for their opponent, but recognizing the game would not be an insurmountable task. First team All-Ohio outfielder Jon Niemeyer summarized, “Toronto is a really good team offensively, but we will use the same approach that has worked for us in the past.”
Aaron Ernst continued, “We are a confident group, their pitcher, (Danny Zdinak), typically throws around 82 mph, and we have seen that.”
So as the first batter stepped to the plate in this most interesting semi-final game, who would be considered the favorite?
If Vegas were to place odds on such contests the nod would probably go to the Red Knights. Number one vs. number eight in the AP poll, at least 3 college-bound baseball players, and a sense of urgency about winning this year’s title in light of last year’s loss to Newark Catholic in the Regional Finals.
As play unfolded at beautiful, sun-splashed Huntington Park, Wiss felt coming in that it would be a tight game.
“I think that we will have to scratch out a run or two early, then play a clean game for 7 innings.”
No one could have anticipated what would happen in the first. The Wildcat offense starts in high gear as lead-off hitter Issac Schmiesing opened with a sharp single, followed by a long Jon Niemeyer double to right. The Red Knights nearly avoid disaster as Danny Zdniak K’d the next two Wildcats.
But in one of the game’s defining moments Minster DH Issac Dorsten sent a long towering fly to right field. Whether the sun was a factor, or the fear of the right field line wall that the Toronto defender was approaching, the ball was misplayed and three Minster runs crossed the plate.
Throw in a few defensive gems – right fielder Jon Niemeyer doubling up a Red Knight runner to short circuit a potential big inning as the home team loaded the bases after the double play. And the normal Issac Schmiesing grabs at short, in particular a diving stop and perfect throw to nail the first hitter in the Toronto 7th, and it’s Minster on to the championship game.
Prior to the game Minster’s Wiss noted. “We have seen it all this year and feel we’re well prepared.”
Which is exactly how the Wildcats played for 7 innings.