ELIDA – The legendary, late baseball great Yogi Berra coined the phrase, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
In Monday’s first ACME baseball state semifinal at Elida’s Ed Sandy Field, Van Wert got down 8-0 to Defiance, but then roared back to force extra innings (beyond seven innings).
In the ninth inning, Defiance went ahead 9-8 on an RBI triple by Jayden Jerger, and then held off Van Wert in its last at bat to notch a hard-fought one-run victory over the Cougars.
With the thrilling extra-inning win, Defiance (20-4-1) will now vie for its 11th ACME state title tonight at 6 p.m. when it faces Tinora (23-2) at Ed Sandy Field.
In Monday’s second semifinal, Tinora defeated Versailles 10-3.
By the top of the fifth inning on Monday afternoon, Defiance had built the 8-0 lead. At that point, the Bulldogs appeared to be in complete control.
But Van Wert (19-3) wasn’t done.
The Cougars scored its first run of the game in the bottom of the fifth.
Van Wert then exploded in the sixth for seven runs on four base hits, en route to knotting the game at 8 apiece.
“They (Van Wert baseball program) had some of the same opportunities during the spring (season), too. … But, I don’t know if they ever had an 8-0 deficit,” Van Wert head coach Ivan Maples said with a grin. “We told them, ‘Just stay with it; and keep getting good approaches at the plate’. We ran the pitch count up on their starter. We struggled early and made a few mistakes. Then, we started hitting the ball.”
Defiance took an early 1-0 lead in the first inning, when Bradyn Shaw, who also was the starting pitcher, hit a fly ball to right field that was deep enough to score David Jiminez from third base. Jiminez led off the game with a walk.
The Bulldogs added another run, in the second, on an RBI single by Kam Ron Rivera (3 for 4, RBI).
In the home half of the second, Van Wert loaded the bases, but came away with no runs.
Defiance coach Joe Keween said his squad did not take Van Wert lightly.
“We (the Defiance coaches) were talking after the game, and (assistant) Coach (Brock) Bergman said it perfectly, ‘When you’re up 8-0 and you have your No. 2 (pitcher, Shaw) on the hill, you normally feel pretty comfortable’. I didn’t
want, by no means, to take them for granted. They have some great players and great coaches, obviously. But there was a level of comfort, where we thought that we were in a very good spot. So, give all the credit in the world to them (Van Wert). At no point did they give up. They made it a heck of a game.”
Ethan Rupert started on the mound for Van Wert. Rupert worked 4 1/3 innings before being replaced by Joshua Reichert. Reichert was on the mound for 3 2/3 innings before giving way to TJ Stoller, who closed it out for the Cougars.
Rupert threw a total of 87 pitches, and gave up eight runs on seven hits.
“We thought Ethan started off well. … He pitched well,” Maples said. “But a walk here, a play here, kind of burned us a little bit. But overall, I thought he pitched well. We had a couple plays we didn’t make, which normally doesn’t happen. So, we brought Josh Reichert in, who hasn’t pitched in three weeks. … He comes out, throws strikes and gets outs. We couldn’t ask for much more.”
Offensively for Van Wert, Stoller was 2 for 4 with two RBI. Rupert had a double and two RBI. For the game, the Cougars recorded six hits.
For Defiance, Jayden Jerger led the way with a 3 for 5 performance at the plate, including that big triple in the ninth that gave his team the go-ahead run.
On the mound for Defiance, Bradyn Shaw worked 5 1/3 innings before giving way to Wade Liffick. Shaw was tabbed for six runs on four hits, while tossing 120 pitches.
Maples reflected on his team’s summer season.
“I just can’t say enough about the way they fought. It was a great summer for the boys. They played well all summer,” Maples said.