BLUFFTON — Seven innings wasn’t enough to determine a district champion in the Division II Bluffton District Title game.
The Wapakoneta Redskins and the Lexington Minutemen found themselves tied at 2-2 heading into extra innings. The Redskins were able to load the bases three times in late innings, but the third time turned out to be the charm for the defending-state-runner ups from Wapakoneta.
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Marshall Gerlach was at the plate, calm cool and collected. Johnny Crawford was standing on third base. He had doubled to right center with one out in the inning.
Chandler Kaeck was standing on second base. He reached on a fielder’s choice, after Andrew Hines was out at second base on a ground ball. Hines initially reached on an intentional walk.
Brandon Schreiber was standing on first base after a couple of pitches and then Lexington opted to intentionally walk him.
Lexington went to the bullpen for Gerlach. The Minutemen’s starting pitcher, Zach Temple, had gone 8.2 innings. For Gerlach, they were going to the bullpen for ace pitcher Evan Lee.
After five pitches, the count was full, the bases were loaded, it was the bottom of the ninth. This was the kind of situations you simulate in your head in the backyard. You daydream about while sitting in the dugout.
The pitch was outside, and Gerlach let it cruise by. Ball 4. Game over.
“I just wanted to put the ball in play, make the defense make a play, but that started with him making him throw strikes at me,” Gerlach said. “Playing this game for so long, coaches have taught us to be be smart, to know where the strike zone is. I saw that it was outside, so I let it go. Luckily, I was right.”
Wapakoneta varsity coach Jason Brandt said he was more proud of the way this team played and battled on the field than any other team in Wapakoneta history.
“We’ve accomplished a lot in the last two to three years, but this is the most proud of a baseball team I’ve ever been,” Brandt said. “We had a lot of opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on early, but we got it done there in the 9th, and you can’t ask for anything else out of these guys.”
The victory at Memorial Field is the second district championship for Wapakoneta in two years, and the third in four years. This is the first time a Wapakoneta sport has won back to back District Championship.
The Minutemen and the Redskins brought their best game Saturday. The defense would bend, but not break. Pitchers would tire, but not give up. For the Redskins, Chace Culver pitched 5.2 innings for the Redskins. The Minutemen got a run on a single in the second and a run on a single in the sixth. After that run scored in the sixth, relief came for Culver.
“Chace was on his game,” Brandt said. “He has pitched a ton of big games for us in the last two years, and he battled and gave us 5.2 innings.”
Culver said his arm felt great, even better than it did the days leading up to the game.
“Overall I felt good. I threw a few innings the other day and I came in feeling better than I did on Thursday,” Culver said.
Johnny Crawford came in for the Redskins in relief in the sixth inning, and got out of a jam with the help of a great play made by the shortstop, Josh Apple.
“We knew Johnny was ready, and he said he was ready and he wanted the ball,” Brandt said. “When you’re a senior leader out there, you want to get in there and get the job done.”
Apple and Alex Koch seemed to be making big, game-saving plays for the Redskins every innings.
“Our defense has been phenomenal since the second week of the season, I can’t ask for a better group of guys,” Brandt said.
Culver said he has the utmost confidence in his middle infield.
“Josh made some great plays,” Culver said. “Koch made some great plays. Best middle infield I’ve seen in high school baseball.”
Apple said hard work and practice is what got the Redskin defense to where it is today, and that they wouldn’t be anywhere without their pitchers, Crawford and Culver.
“We work had at practice. We trust each other,” Apple said. When it’s up the middle, we have confidence that we’re going to get there. And the pitchers feel that way too. It helps a lot when people have confidence in you, you feel like you can make any play.
“Johnny and Chace pitched well, they’ve been doing it all year,” he said. “They did it all last year. We need to ride those kinds of performances. Hopefully we can ride them all the way to state again.”
Koch said he was really impressed with the pitchers on Saturday and that their good pitching gave them the chance to make good plays.
“I have a lot of confidence in our pitchers,” Koch said. “They were throwing today to get our infield a lot of ground balls, and they have a lot of confidence in us. It was a great team win, great game for our pitchers.”
Crawford came in to close out the game for Culver, much in the way Culver came in to close out the game for Crawford on Thursday against Bellevue.
“Just another day out here. Chace kind of had my back on Thursday, and I had his back today,” Crawford said. “We both had a chance to save our arms a little bit.”
Wapakoneta scored their first run on a sacrifice fly from Chandler Kaeck in the first inning. The second run came in the fourth inning on a fielder’s choice. The Redskins had bases loaded and here able to manage one run that inning.
That final, game-winning run, of course came on the walk-off walk from Gerlach.
“I have a ton of confidence in Marshall Gerlach up at the plate, and honestly a ton of confidence in all our players,” Koch said. “It was a great feeling to finally have that game over with. It was going a long, long time.”
Wapakoneta now advances to Regionals, where they will take on Granville, Thursday at Tiffin University at 2 p.m.