BLUFFTON — Of all the strikes thrown Saturday, Andrew Hines’ might have been the biggest.
Wapakoneta’s junior right fielder slammed the door on an early Bellevue scoring threat with a perfect throw to the plate.
Chace Culver took over from there and silenced the Redmen over the final six innings as the Redskins pulled away for a 4-1 win in a Division II district final at Bluffton University.
Culver’s final pitch of the day induced a fly ball to center field. He pumped his fist as Johnny Crawford hauled in the ball and his teammates mobbed him in front of the third base line.
The Redskins were the district champions.
“It was a huge momentum swing for me,” said Culver of Hines’ catch and throw. “I don’t even know how to put it. It was just relief.”
Wapak (22-5) advanced to face Parma Padua Franciscan in a regional semifinal at 2 p.m. Thursday at Tiffin University. Defiance and Plain City Jonathan Alder will meet in the other semifinal at 5 Thursday.
The winners will square off in the regional title game at 5 p.m. Friday.
Hines’ catch and throw bailed Culver and the Redskins out of an early jam.
Bellevue (23-6) took a quick 1-0 lead as its first three batters of the game reached on hits. The Redmen had runners on second and third with no out when Culver got Matt Sieger to pop out to second for the first out.
Two pitches later, Trent Stamm lifted a high fly ball to right center field. As Hines made the catch, Shane Iannello tagged from third base and raced toward home.
Hines fired a no-hop strike to Brandon Schreiber at the plate. Schreiber and the ball were waiting when Iannello got there.
Culver and the rest of the Redskins mobbed Hines as he came off the field.
“That was a tough throw by Andrew because he was moving away from it and he had to come back across his body,” Brandt said. “But it was a rocket in there.”
Said Hines, “I really didn’t expect him to go. But you’ve got to make a play out of it.”
With the momentum now in the Redskins favor, they scored twice in the bottom of the first and never looked back.
Alex Koch drew a lead-off walk, Josh Apple lined a double to left, and Crawford was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs.
Schreiber, the team leader in walks, then drew a one-out walk to score Koch. And Marshall Gerlach, the hero of the Redskins district semifinal win over Tiffin Columbian on Thursday, lifted a sacrifice fly to left to drive in Apple for the 2-1 lead.
Culver, meanwhile, settled into a groove.
He allowed just two singles and one hit batsman over the final six innings, striking out six and walking none.
The Redmen didn’t get a runner past second base the rest of the way.
Despite temperatures in the high 80’s, Culver seemed to get stronger inning-by-inning. In fact, he threw just nine pitches in the sixth inning and six in the seventh.
And only two of those 15 pitches were balls.
“My curve ball was gross today,” Culver said.
Wapak made it a 3-1 lead in the third. Schreiber led off with yet another walk, moved to second on Gerlach’s sacrifice bunt, and scored on Hines’ line-drive single to left.
The Redskins scored their fourth and final run in the fourth. Koch led off with a single. Apple bunted Koch over to second and Koch moved to third when the throw got away from Sieger at first.
Brandon Miller drove in Koch with a one-out sacrifice fly to center.