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Every championship boxer needs a good 1-2 combination — that right-left combo that leaves opponents staggering.
As the Wapakoneta Redskins head to the state baseball final four on Thursday, junior Johnny Crawford and sophomore Chace Culver have proven to be that combination.
Through five tournament games, Crawford’s left arm and Culver’s right have held opponents to just three runs.
And while egos and inter-team rivalries can often get in the way of any team’s success, that hasn’t been the case with Culver and Crawford.
Case in point: the Redskins’ 7-1 win over Padua Franciscan on Thursday in the regional semifinals.
Crawford started the game on the mound and Culver was out of of the lineup. Every inning, as Crawford came into the dugout out of the 90-degree heat, Culver was there waiting with a cold towel. If Crawford’s arm was a little tight, Culver was there to massage it to keep him loose.
“There’s a little bit of rivalry there. I wouldn’t really call it rivalry. I would just say competitiveness between us,” Crawford said. “You always want to be that best guy.
“Me and him, I don’t know what it is. We live right down the street from each other. We’ve always been great friends. We get along so great. So that’s not a problem at all. We help each other.”
Don’t expect much smack-talk between them, though. After Crawford’s sensational catch in center field bailed Culver out of a jam in the regional final win over Defiance, a reporter asked Culver about the play.
“Johnny is one of the greatest high school center fielders I have ever seen in my life,” Culver said. “I had that feeling in my stomach the whole time that Johnny was going to come down with that. It was no surprise to me.”
And when Crawford was asked to assess Culver’s performance on the mound he offered pretty high praise coming from a guy with an 8-0 record and a 0.38 ERA.
“Chace is phenomenal,” he said. “He pitched better today than I’ve pitched all season. He really showed what a great pitcher he is and what he’s going to be in the future. I have great respect for Chace.”
“I don’t know about that,” Wapak pitching coach Gabe Coil said. “Johnny’s pretty good. That might be a little bit of hyperbole.”
Both pitchers burst onto the scene midway through the 2011 season.
After a couple routine outings, Crawford broke Coldwater’s state-record shutout-free streak by blanking the Cavaliers.
He capped his season off with a brilliant one-run performance against Bath in the district tournament, only to be outdone by the Wildcats’ Johny Simindinger, who tossed a shutout.
Crawford finished the season with a 2-2 record and 2.16 ERA in five starts. He struck out a team-high 32 batters.
Culver, meanwhile, joined the team midseason after being promoted from the freshman team to fill in for the injured Dusty Gerlach.
In three starts he struck out 22 and walked just four, compiling a perfect 3-0 record and a team-low 1.17 ERA.
Culver’s numbers were down, particularly his strikeouts, through much of the 2012 season as he tried to develop new pitches. But he has hit his stride at the right time for the Redskins.
“One word: changeup,” Coil said It’s the best pitch in the game and he’s developed it this year. ... That makes him a pitcher now, not just a thrower.”
Pitching has been one of the Redskins’ biggest strengths all season. And with the success of Crawford and Culver, Wapak’s coaches have pitching that have barely been able to use this season.
“It’s a nice problem to have,” Coil said. “Sometimes you can’t get guys in to throw that we want to get innings. Some of these guys could maybe play at the next level that are our No. 3, 4 or 5 guys. We have a lot of depth.”
After the Redskins dismantled the No. 1-ranked Defiance Bulldogs in the regional finals, Defiance coach Tom Held offered this assessment:
“I think defensively and athletically, they’re very good. And I think they can win it all with Johnny and Chace on the mound, that 1-2 punch,” he said.
“They can go down to Columbus and represent the Western Buckeye League. I know I’m going to be their biggest fan next Thursday at 10 o’clock.”