A record crowd turned out to watch the two state-ranked powers battle it out for first place in the WBL. They got their money’s worth. Wapakoneta outlasted Celina in extra inning, 4-3.
By Stan Wilker
Celina – Fans of any team, or any sport, will at some point in following their favorite team see them playing in one of the biggest games of the year, decade, or of all time.
While the Celina – Wapakoneta game at Celina Tuesday may not have reached these heights, as high school baseball games go it was one of the most compelling played in this area for a long time. The two WBL co-leaders squared off at Montgomery Field and did not disappoint the huge crowd attending, and after 9 innings of baseball the Redskins left Mercer County with a hard fought 4 – 3 win.
With the stands full and fans lined up 3 – 4 deep down both baselines, old-time Celina fans could recall the glory days of yesteryear with Celina baseball played at the old Mercelina Park, which hosted many great games over the years from numerous Celina squads in the 1950’s and ‘60s.
The uniforms are now fancier, and Montgomery Field is one of the finest facilities around. But the baseball was as good today as it was at Mercelina 50 years ago. Both teams entered the game at 14 – 2 and undefeated in WBL play; the Redskins with 2 more games under their belt were 6 – 0, and the Dogs 4 – 0. Both are state ranked in D- 2, with the Skins holding on at #2, while Celina is ranked #15.
Prior to the game both coaches felt that to win errors were going have to be minimized, and what chances that were presented had to be aggressively taken.
In the first inning after lead off hitter Maddux Liles opened with a sharp single, Coach Jason Brandt attempted a hit and run which resulted in a fly out to right field. Not to be deterred, Liles proceeded to steal second and third and came home on a bloop single by Mitch Apple. With runners on second and third, further damage to the Dog cause was averted with a Tanner Freeman strikeout of number 6 hitter Wyatt Moyler.
Celina would have tied the score in the bottom of the first had right fielder Noah Ritchie not made a great catch on Isaiah Eichler’s smash after a Seth Lonsway walk. The second inning proved difficult for the home team as the Redskins were able to post 2 runs after Celina had retired the first two batters on Freeman strikeouts. A walk, stolen base, error, and another base hit led to the pair of runs.
Not to be outdone, Celina opened their scoring in the bottom half of the second as Freeman helped his own cause with a single and scampered home on a RBI double by Kole Murlin, who later scores on a throwing error. With bases loaded for the home-standing Dogs, the opportunity to put up a crooked number was huge as the OSU bound Seth Lonsway stepped to the plate. But in an absolute bang bang play, the Celina ace was called out at first, ending the potential big inning.
For the visitors from Auglaize County, the offense would go dormant for the next 6 innings as Celina pitching readily asserted itself with Freeman pitching a clean third and Shawn Rose posting goose eggs in the 4th and 5th innings. The Wapak 6th saw Andy Mikesell go to his big lefthander Seth Lonsway. The ace of the staff was coming off a tremendous 1 – 0 win over perennial WBL power Defiance on Friday. Though he may not have been as sharp, there was gas in the tank as his fastball consistently soared over the 90 MPH mark. While Lonsway held the Skins at bay, Wapak found a more than capable reliever in the form of Maddux Liles, who entered in the 4th, and completed the game for the Redskins. Celina had several opportunities in the 7th and 8th, only to see the innings end with double plays.
The pre-game comments of both coaches were played out as Wapak made some tremendous plays on defense, led by third baseman Mitch Burton, and displayed aggressive baserunning as the winning run was tallied in the 9th after the first two batters were retired. Burton smacked a two out single, followed by a passed ball that moved him into scoring position. On a slow roller to short the runner was safe and in the play of the game the swift Redskin runner beat the throw home to score the winning run after Celina was retired in order in their half of the 9th.
Both coaches recognized what every fan witnessed at this game; Coach Mikesell lamented the missed scoring opportunities, some missed signals and a couple of defensive lapses. Meanwhile, Jason Brandt felt his club did what it had to to beat a quality opponent; take advantage of scoring opportunities, play great defense, and get some clutch pitching.
While this is a tough loss for Celina and a huge win for Wapak, the WBL is far from over as the Redskins must play Defiance and Ottawa-Glandorf in the next seven days. Meanwhile, the Dogs will regroup as they prepare for Grand Lake rival St. Marys. And the fans will wait and hope that these two Div.2 powerhouses square off one more time in tourney action.