Wapakoneta Redskins senior Chace Culver (5), top, is lifted by junior Nate Keack (23), back, and senior Chandler Kaeck after the Redskins won a Division II district championship Saturday against the Bath Wildcats at Bluffton University. (Staff photo/John Zwez)
BLUFFTON — For the second time in three days, walking Chandler Kaeck to face Chace Culver proved to be unwise for Wapakoneta’s opponent in the district tournament.
Culver delivered his second straight eventual game-winning hit with the bases-loaded, as he notched an RBI single for the Redskins’ third run of the seventh inning Saturday, giving his team a 5-4 lead after trailing by two entering their final at-bat.
“Chace came through again like he has so many times throughout the course of this season,” Redskins coach Jason Brandt said.
The Redskins held onto the lead in the bottom of the seventh inning to claim their third straight district title, topping the Bath Wildcats in a high school baseball Division II district final Saturday at Bluffton University’s Memorial Field.
Culver produced a bases-clearing double in the fifth inning during the Redskins’ district semifinal game Thursday, which converted their 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 victory.
He was needed again Saturday to punctuate a Wapakoneta comeback.
Kodi Morgan walked to start the seventh inning. After a strikeout, Keaton Metz ripped a single.
The two runners advanced one base on a passed ball with Jarrett Koch at-bat, putting the tying run in scoring position. Koch managed a hit to load the bases.
“Being down, you want to try to get baserunners,” Brandt said. “Kodi did a great job to draw a walk. Metz laced a single ... that was as key as anything in the inning. Jarrett did a good job getting the bat on the ball. It brought the top of our order up. Those guys have been clutch all year.”
Leadoff hitter Quinn Lotridge batted in Morgan for the first of three runs, keeping the bases loaded. Adam Henderson’s RBI groundout tied the game, leaving first base open with two outs and the go-ahead run on second base.
Bath opted to walk Kaeck in order to face Culver, and the Wildcats paid dearly.
Culver came through with an RBI single which produced the go-ahead run. Trying to score from second base on the Culver singleLotridge was thrown out at home plate for the final out.
“It was walk Chandler or face Chandler,” Brandt said. “I probably would have done the same thing, to load the bases a set a forceout up.
Pitching in relief, Culver allowed a single with two outs in the seventh but struck out the next batter to secure the Redskins’ regional trip, unleashing a celebration by the Red and White.
“Right before we broke the huddle to start the seventh, we told the guys we were proud of them, to continue playing and leave everything on the field,” Brandt said. “With that being said, it sounds great now, but it is what we said.”
The win Saturday was Wapakoneta’s second against Bath this season.
The Redskins won a 20-10 contest in league play April 22.
The win Saturday was also Wapakoneta’s third straight comeback victory in the tournament. The Redskins trailed in a sectional final win March 15 against Fostoria and in a district semifinal Thursday against Celina.
Bath starting pitcher Hunter Weis was perfect after 10 hitters faced Saturday.
Wapakoneta finally broke through in the fourth inning.
Henderson walked. Kaeck singled but was retired when Culver reached on a fielder’s choice. Nate Kaeck brought home two runs with a double, scoring Henderson from third and Culver from first.
A four-run fifth inning by Bath created the Redskins’ need for a comeback.
With one out, Redskins starting pitcher Morgan allowed back-to-back singles.
Although he had a three-hit shutout underway, Morgan was relieved in favor of Culver. The first hit Morgan allowed in the fifth before exiting was the first he allowed since the first batter he faced.
“Kodi was gassed,” Brandt said. “He would tell you that. It was a warm, humid day.”
After a bunt single loaded the bases, Eric Jordan smashed a three-run double to give Bath a 3-2 lead.
Collin Gossard notched his team’s third straight hit off Culver, a single which scored Jordan and gave the Wildcats a two-run cushion, 4-2.
Wapakoneta created a double play to end the Bath onslaught in the fifth. After a groundout for the second out, Gossard was tagged for the third out of the inning between second and third base.
Weis was relieved by Taren Sullivan in the sixth after Henderson singled. Sullivan retired three straight to end the inning.
Culver was the winning pitcher Saturday. He allowed four hits and one earned run in 2 2/3 innings to claim his third win of the tournament.
Morgan went 4 1/3 innings in his first start of the postseason, allowing two runs, three hits and two walks, with four strikeouts.
“Kodi threw a gem for us,” Morgan said. “He kept them off balance in the four and two-thirds he was in there.”
Brandt described the accomplishment of a district title with this particular team, which almost entirely turned over after a giant senior class departed after last season.
“I’m proud of this team as any I’ve ever coached,” he said. “There were no expectations out of this team whatsoever, from outside people at least. As a coaching staff, we knew we had the talent. The players have bought in since day one. The senior class has been a good example.
“A lot of these kids, even though they had no varsity experience coming into the season, dressed with us on tournament runs. They’ve seen how to play the game and what it takes tournament time. That’s part of the reason you dress them, to get them that experience. They haven’t been nervous at all. We’ve been down all three games, come back and shown a lot of heart. It’s a great attribute they have.”
The Redskins will now face the Bryan Bears in the regional tournament. The two teams will play at 2 p.m. Thursday in a Division II, Region 6 semifinal at Tiffin University.
To earn its spot at the Tiffin regional, Bryan defeated Defiance, the defending Division II state champion, on Saturday night.
“They’re a great program in northwestern Ohio, year in and year out ... 20 wins every year,” Brandt said. “I know they’re well-coached. They beat a very good Defiance to get to the regionals as well. We look forward to playing them.
“When you get down to the Sweet 16, you get there because you’re good, not because you’re lucky. We know they’re going to be a quality opponent. We’re going to prepare to have a great battle with Bryan.”
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