BLUFFTON — The conclusion might have been a little slow arriving but it grew stronger with every inning.
That St. Marys was going to repeat its surprising regular-season win over Wapakoneta with another win over the Redskins, this one in a Division II district baseball semifinal game at Bluffton University on Thursday, became a more realistic possibility with every out in the later innings.
By the time the game’s final out, on a pop-up, settled into the glove of winning pitcher Brayden Sullivan, the Roughriders had a 2-0 win over the Redskins and a much larger corps of believers.
St. Marys will play Upper Sandusky at noon Saturday at Bluffton for the district championship. Upper Sandusky defeated Kenton 4-1 in Thursday’s other semifinal.
Wapakoneta (18-6) won the Western Buckeye League and St. Marys (14-14) tied for third.
The Roughriders were the only WBL team to beat Wapakoneta this season. First, it won 7-4 in the regular season. Then it ended the Redskins’ season on Thursday.
“We know they’re one of the best teams in the area and in the state. We knew we were going to have to play one of our best games. We played one of our best games when we beat them at the beginning of the year. We knew we were going to have to have another game like that,” St. Marys coach Adam Graves said.
“The pressure wasn’t on us. Everybody thought the first time we played them was a fluke. So we knew the pressure was going to be on them and if we could hang around and put some pressure on them we knew we could be successful,” he said.
Wapakoneta out-hit St. Marys eight to three but the Roughriders left 10 men on base, including leaving the bases loaded in the in the fourth inning and stranding two runners on base in three other innings.
St. Marys got its first run in the top of the fourth inning when Kasey Gross walked, advanced to second base on A.J. Dieringer’s sacrifice bunt, got to third base on a wild pitch, and scored on Jacob Kaiser’s double.
It added a second run in the fifth inning when Easton Craft was hit by a pitch, Ethan Hollandsworth reached base on an error and scored on a fielder’s choice ground out by Caleb Felver.
Wapakoneta pitcher Grant Jolly (8-1) allowed three hits, struck out seven and walked one. St. Marys’ Brayden Sullivan (7-2) gave up eight hits, struck out four and walked three.
“I don’t think anybody expected us to win the first time and they definitely didn’t expect us to win this time. But we’re a scrappy team and we can play with anybody,” Sullivan said.
“I was just able to locate my fastball where I wanted to. I could throw off speeds if I needed to. We’ve seen them before so I knew that would work. And I had a great defense behind me to pick me up.”
St. Marys struggled early in the season when it lost seven of its first nine games.
“I’m just so proud of our guys. We just kept working. We’ve put all three levels of the game (offense, pitching, defense) together” Graves said.
“Brayden Sullivan pitched a heck of a game for us. He’s our warrior out there. We know if we give the ball to him he’s going to give us everything he’s got. Wapakoneta has three great Division I arms. You have to be disciplined up there (at the plate) and we were able to do that today,” he said.
Wapakoneta coach Jason Brandt said, “We hit some balls really hard today that didn’t fall and that happens. That’s why you love the game of baseball and why you hate the game of baseball. Today was just one of those days. It was just one of those games. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t put any runs on the board in a district semifinal game.”
Upper Sandusky 4, Kenton 1
Kenton led 1-0 early after it scored in the first inning on a sacrifice fly by Grady Baum, which scored Grady Kleman-Beazley.
But that was all the offense the Wildcats could put together against Upper Sandusky pitcher Kaden Holman (10-0) who threw a three-hitter.
Kyle Thrush had two of Kenton’s three hits. Upper Sandusky (25-3) will take on St. Marys for the district championship. Kenton finished its season 11-11-1.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.