TIFFIN — For the past six years, the Defiance Bulldogs have been the unquestioned kings of the Western Buckeye League.
But not on Friday.
Not with the way Chace Culver pitched. Not with the way Johnny Crawford, Alex Koch, Dom Campos and Marshall Gerlach played defense. And not with the way everyone in lineup slots 1 through 9 hit the ball and ran the bases.
It was a virtually flawless performance.
“We’ve had great defense all year long, superb pitching and some timely hitting,” Wapak coach Jason Brandt said.
And now the Wapakoneta Redskins are the Division II regional champions after knocking off the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs in the state 6-1 in the Division II regional title game at Tiffin University.
It is the first trip to state for the Redskins baseball program.
“I don’t know which I like more, beating Defiance or going to state,” Crawford said. “I just have so much respect for them. They’re such a great program. It means the world to me. And I know it does to all my teammates.”
Said Koch, “This is what we’ve been working for.”
The No. 6 Redskins will play either or Richmond Edison (20-9) or Millersburg West Holmes (22-6) in a Division II state semifinal at 10 a.m. Thursday at Huntington Park in Columbus.
Wapak jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead Friday and never looked back.
Culver tossed 6 2/3 shutout innings before giving up the Bulldogs lone run of the game with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
He dominated the first four innings of the game, retiring the side in order in the first and third and allowing just a pair of singles, both off the bat of Shea Murray, in the second and fourth.
“He’s been a battler for us the past four games,” Brandt said. “He’s just had some unbelievable stuff.”
Said Culver, “My changeup was slower but it also broke a little bit. And it doesn’t normally do that. So that was great.”
“His changeup was spectacular today,” Schreiber said.
Twenty-four hours after rallying from a 3-0 deficit to win its regional semifinal game against Jonathan Alder 14-4, Defiance could not mount a comeback against Wapakoneta.
“Somebody asked me, ‘What was the difference yesterday when you put eight runs on the board in one inning but you couldn’t do it today?’,” Defiance varsity coach Tom Held said. “That’s easy. Chace Culver. The pitcher we faced yesterday wasn’t Chace Culver.
“But he had a great defense behind him. Johnny Crawford makes one of the best high school plays I’ve ever seen. Gerlach makes a tough play down here on a foul ball. Koch makes a heck of a play running down a foul ball on the warning track.”
The Bulldogs started making contact in the fifth. And that’s when the Wapak defense took over.
With runners on the corners and two outs in the fifth, Defiance lead-off hitter Anthony Kidston launched a shot toward the wall in center field.
That’s when Johnny Crawford leaped up, made the catch of the season, and rolled over on his back on the warning track, glove held triumphantly high.
“That was a big-time catch,” Brandt said.
Said Crawford, “I just fell down and it landed in my glove. I thought I was going to hit the fence.
“I got a little cut up on my arm. But it doesn’t matter at all. This is a great feeling.”
The Bulldogs had another shot with runners on first and second with two outs. With the hit-and-run on, Jacob Moore slapped a single into the gap in left center. Joe Gentile never broke stride as he rounded third and arrived at plate at the same time as Campos’ one-hop throw.
Gentile appeared to slide safely past catcher Brandon Schreiber’s tag. But the home plate umpire called him out to end the inning, much to the chagrin of Gentile the Defiance bench.
“Give Campos credit for making the throw and Schreiber credit for making the so-called tag,” Held said.
Wapak scored one run each in the second and fourth innings and took advantage of rare back-to-back Defiance errors to put four on the board in the third.
Schreiber led off the second with single and Gerlach followed with a walk. Hines bunted them to second and third before Campos looped a two-out single to right to score Schreiber.
Crawford and Brandon Miller opened the fourth with back-to-back singles. Chandler Kaeck bunted them to second and third. With the squeeze play on, Defiance starting pitcher Rob Zeigler mishandled Schreiber’s bunt and Crawford scored.
Gerlach smacked a grounder to short that slipped past Moore’s glove and into the left-field gap, allowing Miller to score and Gerlach and Schreiber to advance to second and third.
Hines then ripped a single up the middle to drive in both runners and make it a 5-0 game.
Held pulled Zeigler and put Tyler Batt on the mound. Batt got the next two outs to end the inning but gave up a run of his own in the fourth when Crawford reached on a fielder’s choice and scored on a single by Kaeck.
“This is the fourth straight game in the tournament where we’ve knocked out the starting pitcher within the first three or four innings,” Brandt said. “And that attributable to the kids coming ready to play right from the start.”