DEFIANCE — Playing extra innings against Miller City was nothing new for Kalida, but the way it won the Division IV baseball district championship against their Putnam County League rival on Friday at Defiance High School was different.
Junior leadoff hitter Zach Von der Embse’s walk-off inside the park home run in the bottom of the tenth inning, which gave the Wildcats a 3-2 win, was the first home run of his high school career.
Von der Embse, the first batter for Kalida in the tenth inning, launched a long drive between Miller City’s right fielder and center fielder and took off running. He didn’t stop until he crossed the plate with the winning run.
“Once I saw him (Miller City right fielder T.J. Michel) dive and it went over him I knew I was going to be going as hard as I could, at least to three (third base). I saw our coach waving me in and I trusted him and just went with it,” Von der Embse said.
Kalida (17-4) will play McComb at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Patrick Henry in a regional semifinal.
Friday’s win was the second time Kalida and Miller City played extra innings this season. In their regular-season match-up Kalida won 4-3 in eight innings.
In that game, Miller City scored once in the top of the eighth inning to go up 3-2 but Kalida scored twice in the bottom of the inning for the win.
Just like that game, Kalida had to come from behind on Friday. But this time the comeback began early and was a long, sometimes tense process.
Miller City (13-11) scored once in the first inning and got another run in the third inning to take a 2-0 lead. And it wasn’t until the sixth inning that Kalida got on the scoreboard. A two-run rally in that inning tied the game and it stayed that way until the tenth inning.
Miller City made solid contact against Kalida’s No. 1 pitcher Owen Recker early with three hits in the first two innings but had only three more the rest of the game.
Cole Niese led off the game with a double and came around to score on a third strike that got past the catcher and a throwing error.
Niese led off the third inning with an infield hit and Tyler Long followed with a single. A balk and another third strike that eluded the catcher brought Niese home.
“I didn’t like the way we started on defense. We gave them a couple runs early. We just played a little nervous. Once we got through that we settled down,” Kalida coach Joe Recker said. “We knew we were going to be in for a battle today.”
Miller City starting pitcher Eli Ellerbrock kept Kalida off balance for much of the game by mixing a fastball that topped out at 73 miles an hour with a curve ball that usually didn’t hit 60 miles an hour.
“He had us off balance for a while. What a game, what a game,” Joe Recker said.
Kalida’s offense adjusted in the sixth inning when Gabe Hovest got only the third Kalida hit of the game leading off the inning, Von der Embse walked and Trevor Lambert lined a single to left field to score Hovest.
Two batters later Ethan Schmenk dropped a single into left field to drive in the tying run.
Owen Recker (9 strikeouts, 2 walks) pitched the first eight innings before Tyler Klausing took over for the ninth and tenth innings.
“It’s just one of those games where somebody’s got to get beat and it was us,” Miller City coach Dusty Pester said. “I felt early in the game we were one hit away from getting that third or fourth run with guys in scoring position.
“My guys aren’t going to back down from anything. He (Recker) is a heck of a good pitcher. He throws the ball harder than anybody we’ve seen in 10 years, maybe even longer than that. We hit the ball hard a lot of times and they made some plays.”
Kalida’s win came after being district runner-up the last two seasons. And several of the Wildcats also were district runners-up two years in a row in basketball.
“We were ready to get the gold. As players we talked about how it was a game we really wanted,” Owen Recker said.