With league races (nearly) complete and warmer weather looming, area baseball squads in Division IV are hoping for a letup from the rain and overcast skies and a warm-up of not only the air but the bats as well with sectional tournament action starting up this week.
With the road to the state championships at Akron’s Canal Park set from the tournament draw earlier this month, the diamonds across the area will hope to dry out and host postseason action.
In the Bryan District, the Green Meadows Conference and Buckeye Border Conference will mash up in tournament action beginning tonight as sectional semifinals will kick off at Stryker, North Central and Wayne Trace, with winners advancing to the sectional finals on Thursday.
With the better seeds hosting at the sectional level, the top three seeds in the district – Antwerp, Montpelier and Hilltop – will await their opponents while fourth-seeded Hicksville will host six-seed Edon in the sectional finals on Thursday.
For Antwerp, the opportunity to add on to an already historic season is squarely on the minds of the balanced Archers, who are assured at least a share of the first GMC championship in school history and can claim it outright with a win at Tinora on May 20.
The Archers (14-5) had an eight-game win streak snapped Saturday at D-II Bryan (12-0) but have used the balance of a five-man senior core and some key contributions from underclassmen to earn the team’s first No. 1 district seed in years.
“We’re full of confidence and when we went to Bryan on Saturday, hopefully that was a learning experience,” said Antwerp coach Zac Feasby. “We’re not invincible. We’re going to see everybody’s best game and everybody’s gunning for us.
“It’s not like we’re undefeated or anything so it’s a little wide open. We need to approach each game with the mentality that we have to do the little things right or we’re going to go home.”
Antwerp will take on either Stryker (10-9) or Pettisville (3-13) in a 5 p.m. sectional final on Friday. The Archers routed Stryker 8-1 on April 22 but did not face the Blackbirds during the regular season.
“We’re going to rely heavily on our pitching staff,” added Feasby. “We feel like we have a lot of depth. It’s unique this year because we back up good pitching with a great lineup at the plate. There’s not that weak point in our lineup, we can rely on every guy one through nine to come up with a big hit.”
The winner of that sectional final will match up in districts at Bryan’s Sumpter Field next week against either Edon (9-11) or Hicksville (11-8).
Coming off major losses via graduation from last year’s Division IV state runner-up team, Hicksville scuffled early, starting the season 1-5. Since that point, the Aces have caught fire, winning 10 of their last 13 games, including seven of eight since April 23.
“We got off to a slow start. We don’t want to make any excuses but we had a lot of younger guys getting their feet wet,” said Hicksville skipper Tim Shock. “We told them just keep plugging away and here over the last few weeks we’ve won 10 of 13 and we’ve been playing better of late. We’re swinging the bats a lot better.”
The Aces will take on a familiar foe in the Edon Bombers, who bring an aggressive style to the basepaths with 78 team steals on the year, including three players with at least 12 swipes.
“Every once in a while there’s a team that’s just that much better than the others but this is one of those year’s its very even all the way around,” said Shock. “There’s a lot of teams that are very similar and that’ll make some interesting matchups.
“They get on base they’re going to put pressure on you and that’s what we like to do too. We’ve got to limit putting those guys on base. I like playing teams like that, there’s never a dull moment in a game like that. That’s why this district is going to be an exciting one.”
On the lower side of the bracket, state-ranked Montpelier (15-4, No. 15 Division IV OHSBCA) will bring some hardware into the postseason after already clinching the outright BBC championship with one league game left on the slate. The Locos, led by ace Dakota Benner (6-0, 1.16 ERA, 52 strikeouts, 36.1 innings), will match up with either North Central (9-12) or Edgerton (6-18) in the sectional finals in Montpelier on Thursday following tonight’s clash in Pioneer.
Montpelier beat Edgerton 5-4 on Saturday in a tourney tune-up while taking both BBC games from North Central on May 7 and May 9.
Finally, fifth-seeded Wayne Trace (8-9) will get a shot at a return trip to districts, starting out with a contest in Haviland tonight against winless Fayette (0-14). A Raider triumph would propel Ryne Jerome’s squad into the sectional finals at Hilltop on Thursday. The Raiders and Cadets did not meet in the regular season.
The Patrick Henry District features a handful of area squads. Continental hosts Holgate today with the district’s top seed McComb awaiting on Thursday.
PH (sixth seed) will host Vanlue today with second-seeded North Baltimore hosting the the winner on Thursday.
Ayersville, seeded ninth, travels to seventh-seeded Toledo Christian today as well. Leipsic, seeded third, plays the victor on Thursday.
The PH District will be rounded out by the Thursday winner from Arcadia at Mount Blanchard Riverdale.
In the other district of area note, state-ranked Kalida headlines the top squads in the Ottawa-Glandorf District.
The No. 12 Wildcats (14-2, 6-0 PCL) have run roughshod through their slate, with a pair of one-run losses to McComb (1-0) and Elida (5-4) blemishing their record.
Powered by Bowling Green commit Owen Recker’s powerful arm (5-0, 1 save, 0.38 ERA, 79 strikeouts, 37 innings) and a balanced lineup, Joe Recker’s squad is plenty formidable, though the Kalida skipper is far from overconfident at the district field.
“There’s a lot of our very good rivals,” said Recker, whose Wildcats will host either Hardin Northern (6-17) or Cory-Rawson (5-13) on Thursday at 5 p.m. “You can throw the records out, everyone comes to play, especially in PCL matchups. There’s just more intensity and these rivalries go back way before my day.”
Kalida enters the postseason averaging 8.2 runs per contest, a lethal combination with an array of pitching options that has combined for a team ERA of just 1.89.
“Some of the guys with a little lower average are starting to come around and that’s to be expected with the way the schedule’s gone,” said Recker. “It’s hard to have consistency when we’ve had eight games in a row canceled or postponed. You just can’t simulate live pitching in a gym.
“We’re probably averaging seven, eight runs a game ... If we can score six, seven runs off some of these good pitchers, we’ll be in good shape.”
Arlington (9-8) and Ottoville will face off at Arlington tonight with the winner facing fourth-seeded Fort Jennings.
On the bottom half of the bracket, 11-9 Miller City garnered the two seed in the district and with it a matchup against either fifth-seeded Allen East (12-13) or 12-seed Pandora-Gilboa (3-13).
Ada (8-11) and Delphos St. John’s (5-18) round out the sectional semifinal slate, with the winner taking on third-seeded Columbus Grove on Thursday.