VAN WERT — Getting ahead early was big for Van Wert in its 7-4 win over Wapakoneta in a Division II baseball sectional championship game on Saturday.
Getting the field at Smiley Park ready to play might have been almost as big.
Thursday night’s heavy rains across the area forced the game to be pushed back 24 hours from Friday afternoon to Saturday. And it took a Herculean effort to get the diamond ready to go by Saturday.
“Water was three-fourths of the way to the infield (from the outfield fence). If you had walked out here Friday and somebody said, ‘You’re going to play a game Saturday,’ you would have said, ‘No,’ ” Van Wert coach Charlie Witten said.
“Without the sewer and water department guys … There was one guy who worked around 30 straight hours. They told me they had every pump and every hose out here. We had parents show up, we had other teachers show up. We certainly had a great community effort to get this field playable,” Witten said.
Van Wert (22-2) scored two runs in the bottom of the third inning, two more in the fourth and got a fifth run in the fifth inning to take control of the game.
The Cougars’ starting pitcher, Lawson Blackmore, allowed only one hit in the first five innings and had 11 strikeouts in those five innings.
Wapakoneta got two runs in the sixth inning and forced Blackmore out of the game, then scored two more runs in the seventh inning, including a leadoff home run by Brady Erb, against reliever Owen Treece.
“Nothing’s easy. We didn’t think it would be. Wapak’s a real good program. They’re a highly respected program. They battled us like crazy today,” Witten said.
“Just getting ahead is huge especially in a tournament game. When we got ahead that was huge momentum. Any time they scored we answered back. Anytime you take momentum away from them that is huge, too,” he said.
Van Wert will play Lexington at 4 p.m. Thursday at Heidelberg University in Tiffin in a Division II district semifinal. Shawnee will play Clear Fork in the other district semifinal at 6 p.m.
Wapakoneta coach Jason Brandt said, “We had the tying run on deck in the seventh. Against a team like that, I couldn’t ask more from our guys.
“We told these guys they had to leave everything on the field. Win or lose, you leave everything out there. If you don’t leave everything out there, then you’ve come up short, you haven’t competed. These guys competed.”
The Redskins, last year’s Division II state runner-up, had just two returning starters – Brady Erb and Jett Makar – from that team and both of them were in new positions this season.
“I know a lot of people did not give us a chance this year” Brandt said about his team, which dropped out of the postseason with a 12-11 record.
Van Wert leadoff hitter Jaxson Armweg went 3 for 3 and Jake Lautzenheiser, Hayden Maples, Nathan Temple and Jalen McCracken all had two hits. Maples and Temple had two RBI and McCracken scored three runs. Wapakoneta’s Braden Goulet had two hits.