BRYAN — In a game that featured both three innings of no-hit ball and two innings of crooked numbers, Antwerp made some history.
In their first district final in over 20 years, the Archers made an already historic run even more noteworthy with an 11-1 win over Montpelier to advance to the first regional tournament in program history.
“It’s like you’re in an underdog role because it’s never been done here before so what do you have to lose,” said Antwerp coach Zac Feasby, whose Archers will take on North Robinson Colonel Crawford in Division IV regional semifinal action on Thursday at Patrick Henry at 2 p.m. “It means a lot to me because I graduated from Antwerp. I’m happy for this community.
“It was a roller coaster. We were getting no-hit until a senior comes up and ropes a triple and gets us going. After that, hits are contagious. It just takes one guy to come up with a big hit and get the team going.”
Fresh off a 5-0 no-hit victory by sophomore Austin Lichty in a district semifinal win over Edon, the Archers tacked on three more no-hit frames to start off the finals against the Locomotives, though the top seed found itself behind early on.
On the second pitch of the game, Collin Crisenbery reached when a throw from third to first was off line, allowing the Loco leadoff hitter to advance to second.
On a Dakota Benner grounder to third in the next at-bat, the Archer infield attempted to catch Crisenbery in a rundown between second and third but a throw to third with no one covering allowed Crisenbery to race home and draw first blood for the Locos, themselves gunning for the program’s first regional berth in 16 years.
“I did feel it a little bit, I’m not going to lie,” said Krouse of some pressure on the mound following the inauspicious start. “But I have faith in my defense. Even though we made the error, I knew we would make plays. I couldn’t hit some spots and my curveball wasn’t really working tonight and I need to work on that more but I got some fly balls from my changeup.”
For the next two full frames, Benner and Antwerp freshman Luke Krouse battled to put up goose-eggs without a hit allowed on either side.
Benner, a two-time defending Buckeye Border Conference Player of the Year, retired the Archers on six pitches in the first inning, eight pitches in the second and 12 in the third to put the Locos in an early driver’s seat.
With both sides grinding, a spark was all that was needed to break the contest open and leading off the fourth, the Archers lit an inferno.
Senior center fielder Cole Seslar tattooed the second pitch he saw in the frame nearly over the Sumpter Field rightfield wall, rolling into third with a leadoff triple. Two batters later, a Jacob Savina grounder deep in the hole at shortstop allowed the junior to reach, scoring Seslar to tie things up.
“It felt good coming off the bat,” said Seslar of the game-changing drive. “I was confident in our lineup. We had great baserunning and it just got contagious hitting for us, I couldn’t be happier.”
Added Feasby: “That’s what you expect out of a senior who’s been starting since he was a freshman. He’s had an up and down career but he stepped up in the biggest moment that we’ve had this year and hits a triple and double to energize our team. I’m proud of all these guys.”
The Archers were far from done making their case in the fourth. Senior Keaton Altimus rapped an RBI single to center to score Austin Lichty to make it 2-1 before the wheels started coming off.
A dropped third strike to Brett Fulk allowed the senior to reach but Montpelier catcher Bryer Bentley was unable to locate the loose ball, allowing both Altimus and Savina to score to make it 4-1 Archers.
Montpelier rebounded to record a pair of outs but Krouse recorded a base hit to center and was advanced to third on a fielding error on a tough ground ball to short.
With Krouse at third and Blake Schuette at first, a pickoff throw to second was awry, allowing Krouse to steal home and up the lead to 5-1.
“They hit the ball well and we made some mistakes,” said Montpelier skipper Toby Hutchison. “We got down 4-1 and I wasn’t too worried, we’ve been the cardiac kids coming back all season. We just couldn’t find the gap today. You’re going to have games like that. I’d say this wasn’t one of our better games but we happened to have that game in the district finals.”
Antwerp’s positive momentum proved to be contagious in the fifth frame as well. Seslar, who led off the fourth with a triple, led off the fifth with a well-hit double to right. On the next at-bat, Austin Lichty recorded a base hit to center field and a throw from the cutoff man to Benner on the mound was off line as Seslar took advantage and scored from second.
Two batters later, Altimus added another RBI single to make it 7-1 and chase Benner. With Bentley on to replace the Loco hurler, things did not go as planned. Antwerp drew back-to-back walks to load the bags before Krouse walked on five pitches to make the score 8-1 Archers.
Two more walks put Antwerp in double digits and Seslar, up to bat for the second time in the frame, drew the rare walk-off hit-by-pitch to clinch the 10-run mercy limit in the fifth and send Antwerp to a historic regional field.
“Defensively, we start out with a couple errors,” recalled Feasby. “I think it was probably nerves. Before the game I didn’t feel like the guys were nervous but they’re playing in the first district title game in 20 years. This team all year, they just deal really well with adversity. They don’t let things get to them and they bounce back.”
Added Krouse: “Last night (vs. Edon) it was Jason Geyer in the nine spot. Most Division IV teams can go one through six but we’ve got 11 guys that can play varsity baseball. Once we get through that first part of the lineup, we started attacking and getting hits out there.”
The win propels Antwerp into a four-team regional field along with Colonel Crawford, itself making its first regional appearance in 54 years, Kalida and McComb.
The run to regionals matches up with a renaissance in Antwerp athletics, joining the Archer softball team in its first-ever state tournament appearance this season and multiple Archer track and field athletes qualifying for the state championships.
“It’s awesome to have all spring sports doing so well at the same time, which is rare, especially for a Division IV school,” said Feasby. “It almost feels like both teams are energizing each other. It’s just awesome for this community, awesome for this school.”
Montpelier 100 00 — 1 2 1
Antwerp 000 56 — 11 7 2
Records: Antwerp 17-5, Montpelier 18-5.
Winning pitcher: Luke Krouse (5 innings, 1 run, 2 hits, 1 strikeout, 3 walks).
Losing pitcher: Dakota Benner (4.1 innings, 7 runs, 7 hits, 2 strikeouts, 1 walk).
Leading hitters: (Montpelier) — Tyler Rupp double. (Antwerp) — Cole Seslar double, triple; Keaton Altimus 2 singles.