Behind another pitching gem by Aaron Ernst, some age-old baseball wisdom, and frankly, a little luck…Minster knocks out the state’s #1 team to advance to Saturday’s championship round.
Columbus – Jim Hardman, the iconic former baseball coach from Piqua High School, had to have been hovering around Huntington Park Friday morning.
Because Hardman preached for 40 years – strike out less than other team, and make them make one more play than you have to in the field…and they may give you the game on a misplay, or an error.
And that’s exactly how the now 24-7 Minster Wildcats beat the state’s #1-ranked team in Division IV, the Toronto Red Knights, 3-0, to advance to Saturday’s championship game against the winner of Russia and Dalton in the day’s second D-IV semi-final game.
It all happened in the top of the first, when Minster’s top two men in the batting order, Isaac Schmiesing and Jon Niemeyer, singled and doubled to start the game against Toronto pitcher Danny Zdinak.
But, Zdinak promptly struck out the next two, Alex Lehmkuhl and Ben Stubbs. And Toronto’ coaches then chose to walk Bryce Schmiesing intentionally to load the bases…and face DH Isaac Dorsten.
Dorsten quickly got down two strikes, fought off a couple of more strikes with foul balls, and then lifted a high fly ball down the right field line, about 300 feet from home plate. Toronto right fielder Lucas Gulczynski came on a dead sprint, fighting the sun and a high blue sky over Huntington Park. He got to the ball…but it fell. It fell, and squirted past him to the wall, while Dorsten chased both Schmiesings and Niemeyer home, proving Hardman’s redemptive wisdom about putting the ball in play. Minster took a three-run lead that they would never relinquish.
“I just wanted to put the ball in play,” said Dorsten later. “I felt like I hit it pretty good, it felt good off the bat.”
But it really made starting pitcher Aaron Ernst feel good, too, because Minster’s senior ace promptly took to the mound and delivered another in what’s been a series of post-season gems – a six-hit shutout against a team known for hammering the fastball. Hardman would have smiled about that, too. An old high school catcher from Springfield who once caught 1960 World Series hero Harvey Haddix on weekends, no one understood the value of good starting pitching better. Unless, that is, it’s Mike Wiss.
“Aaron was spectacular for us again,” said Minster’s venerable baseball boss. “I’ll tell you, I just wanted to hug him. He went out there and threw strikes and let his defense work behind him. And I think the defense, along with playing with the lead, gave him a lot of confidence.”
Ernst would not argue, as the Wildcat defense made every one of the routine plays in the field…in addition to a sterling double play in the fourth on a fly ball to right field and that the same Jon Niemeyer caught cleanly and instinctively fired to first base to double off Toronto runner Nathan Karaffa who had singled to open the inning.
“My defense was tremendous again,” Ernst, who pitches better than he talks, said shyly to reporters after the game. “They’re always great and they made some great plays today.”
But Ernst, himself, was perhaps too modest. If you’d asked his defense it’s likely they would have said, to a man, that Aaron Ernst was TREMENDOUS!
The scouting report on Toronto was apparently to keep the fastball out of harm’s way. And that’s exactly what Ernst did. Deftly mixing his 80 mile per hour fastball and a 70 mile per hour curveball, he kept Toronto guessing, striking out the game’s first two hitters on called third strike curveballs…and then slipping the fastball by them when they guessed curve too much!
“The more I threw it (the curve) the more confidence I had in it,” said Ernst. “That was the game plan. We knew they were a good fastball hitting team. We were going to throw them the curve.”
“And about 80% of the time,” echoed Wiss. “I know they had our signals in the other dugout. So Ben Stubbs and I changed things up along the way.”
But credit Ernst for taking matters in his own hands, stolen signs notwithstanding. With the bases loaded on pair of hits and a walk in the fifth inning, Wiss called time and made his only trip, and a slow one, to the mound.
“No strategy at a time like that,” said Wiss. “That was just a 30-second breather for Aaron.”
The oxygen did him good. He promptly struck out Toronto hitter Nick Chetock for the third out.
An inning later he finished the sixth by striking out designated hitter Cole Bodnar for the final out, fortifying himself for what most expected to be a dramatic finish in the seventh.
But it wasn’t to be. Ernst went through Toronto’s nine, one, and two hitters in the bottom of the seventh like Grant took Richmond.
In short, it was textbook baseball. Make the most of what scoring opportunities you get, pitch well, catch the ball, and make the routine plays. That’s how Minster won the game; and in the end, that’s how Toronto (27-4) lost the game.
“I like to think that we teach good fundamental baseball,” said Wiss. But credit players like Johnny Niemeyer for the energy he had to get us started with his double in the first. And the play he made on the double play was instinctive. He didn’t hesitate. He came up throwing and made a great play. I like to think you can do that when you have stability in your coaches, and our coaches have all been here for a long time. The kids know by now how we play the game.”
When you do these things sometimes the game looks simple. But hey, even Jim Hartman would have told you that all the theory in the world won’t win…unless you have an Aaron Ernst, a Jon Niemeyer, or an Isaac Dorsten.
As sure, and as old, as the game itself!