By JOHN S. HULLINGER
COLUMBUS — It wasn’t supposed to happen this year.
But that didn’t make it any easier when it didn’t.
Conventional wisdom from the beginning was that the junior-laden Wapakoneta Redskins were getting primed at a run for the state baseball title in 2013.
Then 2012 happened.
Defending Division II state champions Columbus St. Francis DeSales handed the Redskins a 3-2 defeat and claimed a repeat state championship Saturday at Huntington Park in Columbus.
The loss ended an improbable tournament run for Wapakoneta. A visibly disappointed Redskins team had just one thing on its mind as it accepted its state runner-up trophy.
“Now,” said Wapak center fielders Johnny Crawford when a reporter asked him how soon he would be directing his focus to next year.
On Saturday, the Redskins fell behind early, battled back, but came up just short in their title bid.
“It’s tough,” Redskins coach Jason Brandt said. “These guys gave it everything they had from the first pitch to the last pitch. These guys are a bunch of battlers. Our motto, ‘Win the battle,” one step short, but yet, to get to this place is a great feeling as well.
“But now we also have to have the feeling that we had after the game, a little bit of a bitter taste in our mouths. So we can work just that hard to hopefully earn a shot again next year.”
Sophomore pitcher Chace Culver started on the mound for Wapak and struggled through the first two innings, throwing 60 pitches and walking in the first run of the game with the bases loaded in the top half of the first.
Culver settled down before the Stallions jumped out to a 3-0 lead with a two-out rally in the fourth.
With Ryan Maloney on third and two outs, Jack Miller slapped one up the middle. Shortstop Josh Apple fielded it in front of second base. But Miller beat Apple’s throw to first.
Then with runners on second and third, Zak Dekamp reached on an error, allowing Miller to score.
DeSales pitcher T.J. Alas, meanwhile, no-hit the Redskins through three innings before Crawford crushed a warning-track fly ball for a double in the fourth.
Crawford’s double moved Apple, who had drawn a walk, to third, designated hitter Chandler Kaeck drove him in on a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1.
Wapak closed to within a run in the sixth.
Apple led off with a double down the third-base line, advanced to third on Crawford’s groundout, and scored on Brandon Miller’s sacrifice fly.
Unfortunately for the Redskins, DeSales still had an ace in the hole.
No. 1 starter Nick Elzroth had thrown just 70 pitches in the Stallions’ state semifinal win over Lake Catholic.
Elzroth replaced Alas on the mound and promptly got Marshall Gerlach to line out to short to end the inning. He then retired Andrew Hines, Dom Campos and Alex Koch in order to end the game.
“He shut the door on us,” Brandt said.
Alas got the win to improve to 9-0 on the season and 21-0 for his three-year varsity career. He allowed just three hits in 5 2/3 innings.
Elzroth picked up the save.
“We didn’t come out like we’d like to have,” Apple said. “But runner-up, I guess we’ll take it. And next year we’re all coming back and we’ll be here again next year, for sure.”
Apple was 1-for-2 and scored both Wapak runs.
Brandon Miller and Kaeck each went hitless at the plate, but drove in both runs.
Besides Apple, Crawford and Gerlach produced the other two hits for Wapak.
“It’s hard to take this loss right now,” Crawford said. “But looking back on it we’re going to think, wow, we made it to the state championship. we did something that people didn’t give us a chance to do this year. Having no seniors is really going to fire us up for next year and we can come back here and be here again. And next year we’re going to win it all.”