BLUFFTON — Forget all of the what-ifs, maybes and could’ve or should’ves.
Wapakoneta’s baseball team is going to the regional tournament for the second year in a row, the first team in any sport to accomplish that feat in the school’s athletic history.
Wapakoneta (18-5) knocked off Lexington in nine innings Saturday when third baseman Marshall Gerlach walked with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Redskins a 3-2 win in Division II district final action at Bluffton University.
With the victory Wapakoneta advances to the Tiffin University regional and will face Granville at 2 p.m. Thursday in the semifinals.
The Redskins again got stellar pitching from both Chace Culver and Johnny Crawford. Culver started on the mound and went 5 2/3 innings before leaving with the game tied at 2-2. Crawford, who is bound for Bowling Green next year, came on and tossed 3 1/3 innings of shutout, no hit ball to earn the victory and improve to 7-2 on the season.
Wapakoneta had chances to break the game open early but Lexington starting pitcher Zach Temple was able to hold them at bay. The Redskins loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning but were held to only one run as Temple mixed slow curves with slower curves to retire Wapakoneta.
The Minutemen (22-5) bounced back to tie the game when their leadoff hitter, right fielder Evan Lee, walked to begin the second inning and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt. First baseman James Watkins drove Lee home with a single to tie the game.
The Redskins grabbed the lead again in the fourth inning when catcher Brandon Schreiber and Gerlach recorded back-to-back singles and Schreiber came around to score on an error by the Lexington shortstop.
Once more the Minutemen responded as they tied the game at 2-2 in the top of the sixth inning. An error by Gerlach allowed Lexington to score an unearned run, and Culver exited the game and Crawford moved to pitcher from left field. Redskins shortstop Josh Apple made an outstanding play behind second base to throw out a Lexington runner for the third out of the inning and hold the Minutemen to only one run, stranding two Lexington runners.
“We knew Lexington was a good team, we scored and they answered.” Wapakoneta coach Jason Brandt said. “Our defense has been outstanding since the second week of the season. Chace said his arm felt great and he wanted the ball. Johnny is not 100 percent but gave us all we needed.”
Wapakoneta stranded two runners in both the seventh and eighth innings while Crawford shut down the Minutemen bats over innings seven, eight and nine.
Crawford doubled to deep right field with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning and Lexington issued an intentional walk to Andrew Hines. Chandler Kaeck hit into a fielders’ choice as Crawford moved to third base. The Minutemen issued another intentional walk to Schrieber to load the bases with two outs.
At that point, Lexington replaced Temple — who went 8 2/3 innings — with Lee to face Gerlach. Lee, who was 4-0 on the year with two saves, went to a full count before walking in the winning run with a pitch that was low and away from Gerlach and the Redskins could begin the celebration.
“That kid (Temple) was overpowering, he mixed it up and did a great job.” Brandt said. “Give Marshall (Gerlach) credit, he’s a three-year starter. He battled and redeemed himself from that error.”
Crawford led the Redskins’ offense with three hits while Schreiber and Gerlach both had two hits to pace the Wapakoneta nine-hit attack.
Brandt credited the tough Western Buckeye League schedule for their success.
“We’re battle-tested from playing in the WBL, we see top-notch pitching every league game.” Brandt said. “I can’t ask for a better of group of guys, we have 13 seniors who never get complacent.”
Wapak vs. Lexington