A local hardball trio will take aim at a state power coached by a former Defiance College standout this week in Division II district play at Archbold’s Memorial Park.
Top district seed Bowling Green, ranked third in the state, heads to Fulton County as the favorite to reach the round of 16 after second-seeded Toledo Central Catholic (No. 27 in state) and third-seeded Defiance were ousted in sectional finals.
The Bobcats will tangle with Jeff Inselmann’s Golden Bears of Bryan (fourth seed) in Thursday’s lid lifter at 4:30 p.m. The approximate 7 p.m. district dustup features seventh-seeded Wauseon and sixth-seeded Napoleon.
Rematches are the order of business in both district semifinals.
BG trimmed Bryan 5-4 in a 10-inning thriller on April 5 while Napoleon garnered a 10-4 victory over Wauseon on March 28.
“It was one of the cold weather, wind-blowing-in type of games,” said Napoleon coach Jason Holubik. “I know what the score of that game was but I also know what they did to us in ACME last summer. The script was flipped there.
“The way I look at it is we’re looking at a mirror image of ourselves,” added Holubik of facing Wauseon. “We have almost identical records. I think there are some things there in terms of strengths. They’re battle-tested; Trent plays a tough schedule like we do. We’re going to have to play extremely well to beat them on Thursday. It’s going to be us playing at our best to beat them on Thursday.”
The first game with BG gives Bryan some confidence.
“I think the biggest thing our guys can take from our first game is we know we can compete against them,” said Inselmann. “BG is a very talented team and we know we have to play well to beat them. Neither team pitched their ace in our first meeting and I’d like to think we are a better team at this point in the season compared to earlier in the year.”
The Bobcats are mentored by Jim Beaverson, who played baseball for fellow BG native Craig Rutter at Defiance College.
“Anytime you play Bryan, you know you’re going to play a quality team,” said Beaverson, a 1990 DC grad that owns several school records. “They’re well coached, good ball players growing up all the way through the community of Bryan. They do a great job of instilling fundamentals, defense, offense and advancing runners. Jeff does a really good job.”
While the matchups will be the same from the regular season, those toeing the slab will be different.
Dom James (6-2, 1.12 ERA, 56.1 innings, 48 hits, 59 strikeouts) will get the ball for the Bears. If needed, Zach Pittman (4-0, 2.46 ERA, 25.2 innings, 14 hits, 42 strikeouts) will be the first call Inselmann makes in relief.
“We are pitching Dom James who has been our most consistent pitcher all season and he will have to mix pitches and location to keep them off balance,” said Inslemann. “The key for us is to throw strikes and play solid defense because extra outs or free bases for BG is a recipe for disaster.”
Kent State commit Kyle Jackson powers the BG bats. But Jackson is far from the only threat in the star-studded Bobcats’ lineup.
“Kyle’s one of the most talented kids I’ve ever seen on the baseball diamond,” lauded Beaverson. “Even back when I was playing baseball and I’ve been playing baseball my whole life and we had some quality kids that I played with back in 1986 when we were 23-1 (lost to No. 1 nationally ranked Upper Arlington in Regionals to snap 18-game winning streak).”
Jackson is hitting near .500 for the Bobcats in the three spot. Bryce Hoehner (.375, CF) will be in the two spot, Micah Fry (.370, 3B) hits cleanup while Beaverson’s son, Peyton, is hitting near .350 in the nine hole.
“He single-handedly beat us in our first meeting by getting on base and having heads up base running,” said Inselmann of Jackson. “He is their big energy guy and a very talented hitter who is hitting over .500 so keeping him off base and not letting him — their best player — beat us is key. They have several other good hitters so they are strong 1-9 in their order.”
Senior righty Tucker Craft is expected to start on the mound for BG, which is loaded with pitching depth.
“I’m not afraid to throw seven or eight different guys,” explained Beaverson. “Tucker and Luke Roberts are our 1-2. That’s a tough matchup for anybody. Tucker is just over a 1.00 ERA and has went up against our toughest competition. He is a flat-out pitcher. If anybody remembers Greg Maddox, he’s that kind of pitcher. He’s a true pitcher. He’s not a 100 mph guy, he’s not a 90 mph guy. He’s just a kid that changes eye levels, changes speed and doesn’t let kids square the ball up.”
Said Inselmann of Craft: “He is an elite competitor and pounds the strikezone. He has three above average pitches with his fastball in the low 80s and can throw them all at anytime in the count.
“Most high school pitchers are predominantly two-pitch pitchers, so for him to have three pitches with the ability to command all three presents a difficult challenge,” continued Inselmann. “Our hitters must be able to go with the pitch as he likes to work the outside corner. It will come down to us being able to put pressure on their defense with hard hit balls and driving gaps. They are very strong defensively so runs could be at a premium.”
Ethan Khandaker leads the Bryan attack with a .333 average while Nate Miller (.299 average, 15 RBIs) is also around the .300 mark.
“What has led to our success is the embracement of the culture change I brought in as the new coach two years ago,” explained Beaverson. “I wanted more discipline, more focus in the moment ... every pitch, every swing, every play. Everything you’re doing you have to be in the moment; you can’t slack off mentally.
“We instilled that into the kids with a player creed that they’ve all bought into,” added Beaverson. “They’ve always had quality kids in the baseball program in Bowling Green, it was just getting them to really focus, expect more from themselves and hold themselves accountable. That’s what we’ve gotten and we’re seeing the success of that creed.”
Wauseon heads to the district round for the first time since 2015 and will send Connar Penrod (3-2, 3.70 ERA, 41.2 innings, 63 strikeouts) to the hill to face Napoleon ace Landon Willeman.
“He’s got a good slider,” assessed Holubik of Penrod. “We saw him in the summer time as a sophomore. He’s really confident, his fastball really moves and if he’s got both of them working, we’re going to have to take advantage of the opportunities, the walks.”
Napoleon is hitting .230 as a team, which is paced by Willeman’s .362 average. Mitchell Kruse swings the bat at a .299 clip from the leadoff spot and Jake Smith leads the team with 23 RBIs.
Willeman has logged 41.2 innings, posted a 4-3 record while allowing 41 hits and whiffing 62 hitters.
The first meeting between the Route 108 rivals was played in a downpour and Wauseon mentor Trent Thomas says his team is a lot different since March.
“We’re a different team and we kind of switched our lineup up the following week,” explained Thomas. “We’re playing a few more younger kids now. We’re a different team; way more seasoned. Playing sophomores and getting them ready back then was a different animal.”
Wauseon is hitting .261 as a team going into the matchup with Willeman, who the Indians faced last spring.
“He’s a high-velocity guy,” said Thomas. “Anytime you have a guy out there that can throw into the upper 80s, it’s tough to hit if he’s on. Then he’s got a really good curveball. What I’m hearing is he’s been throwing that in any count. We’re going to have to be on our A-game. Last year when we faced him in the spring he was lights out.”
Joe Shema (.343 average), Sean Brock (.324 average, 3 homers), Trent Armstrong (.307 average, 21 RBIs and Brady Thomas (.275 average, 16 RBIs) are the top hitters for the Indians.
“Landon will have to spot the fastball and command the curveball,” said Holubik. “You look at the top of their lineup with Shema, Brock and Armstrong are all guys that can really hit. They’ll bunt and move runners. It’s also about us playing defense behind him. We can’t kick the ball around, we have to make plays behind him and keep his pitch count down.”