HAMLER — Just three seasons ago, Antwerp finished a season with two wins.
Before this season, the Archers’ baseball program had never played in a regional game.
This season, the operating word is historic. The Archers rallied from a 3-0 first-inning hole on Saturday at Garrold Parratt Field at Patrick Henry to earn a 4-3 come-back win over Kalida and clinch the program’s first-ever state tournament berth.
Coupled with the softball team’s run in the Division IV state tournament Friday and Saturday, Antwerp’s weekend was euphoric, if not a bit nail-biting.
“When you have great pitching and great defense backing us up, and we had some outstanding defensive plays, I can’t say enough about these guys making plays when we had to,” said Antwerp skipper Zac Feasby, whose Archers will take on No. 6 Toronto (20-4) in the Division IV state semifinals Friday at 7 p.m. at Canal Park in Akron. “We’ve shown fight all year. If we get down, nothing changes. We know at any time we can make something happen.
“We didn’t have that big inning today but we just found ways to get runs here and there and we cashed in at the end there.”
The win marks the seventh time in nine seasons that the Green Meadows Conference will be represented at the state championships, joining Tinora (2011-14) and Hicksville (2015, 2018).
In the ninth, senior Dylan Hines was hit by a pitch on a 2-2 count to put a leadoff runner on. A sacrifice bunt and grounder later, nine-hole hitter Jason Geyer took to the plate with two outs and a runner at third with an opportunity to put the Archers (19-5) to yet another place they’d never been.
The sophomore right fielder rapped the first pitch he saw in the inning on the ground near first base, catching Kalida’s infield out of position. With no one there to cover first in time, Hines raced home and sent the Antwerp fans into hysterics.
“The last at-bat wasn’t good for me against that pitcher (called strikeout by Tyler Klausing in the seventh) but I knew that I had to change that,” said Geyer, who broke open a scoreless tie against Edon in the district semifinals to spark a win from the ninth spot in the lineup. “I just jumped on it right away. We knew we could do it, we just kept pounding the ball and finding spots.”
Said Feasby: “When a sophomore steps up and makes a play like that, when a freshman lays down a good bunt before that, when you have younger guys executing plays like that and senior leadership … it’s made for a special year.”
Early on, the Wildcats put together a three-run first-inning effort off Antwerp freshman lefty starter Luke Krouse, thanks to a leadoff walk, a fielding error on a fly ball and RBI hits from Owen Recker and Josh Erhart.
The Archers battled back in the bottom of the second, as a Keaton Altimus leadoff single led to a two-out RBI double from Krouse on a fly ball that dropped just fair between a pair of Kalida fielders.
Geyer scored on a grounder from Austin Lichty that led to one of three Kalida errors in the contest in the third before the Archers knotted things up in the sixth as a passed ball with one out allowed Lichty to scoot home from third.
Kalida nearly had the chance to send the program to its first state tournament in 13 years, putting the first two runners on in the seventh. A dropped fly ball in center and a base hit from Zach Von der Embse saw Krouse pushed to 105 pitches, just 20 away from the mandated state limit.
The crafty southpaw then strung together three consecutive strikeouts, finishing with 11 on the game and keeping the Archers alive.
“The first innings haven’t been good. The Hicksville game they got a couple off me,” explained the freshman lefty. “In these regional games, you’ve got to battle. We’ve never been here and we’ve got nothing to lose. With the community behind us and the softball team doing what they’re doing, it’s just great.”
Junior Jacob Savina, who recorded the eventual game-winning RBI single in the Archers’ 1-0 regional semifinal win over Colonel Crawford, was clutch for the second time in three days, pitching two innings of scoreless relief after Krouse departed following the seventh.
The righthander, who had not pitched since May 7, struck out three in the eighth inning and retired the side on seven pitches in the ninth to keep Antwerp in it.
“We were getting to that pitch limit and then a guy like Jacob Savina hasn’t pitched for a while,” said Feasby of Savina’s effort. “For him to come in as poised as he was late in the tournament says a lot. There’s a calmness about the guys in pressure situations that’s so unique.”
For Kalida, the loss is marred by three errors and eight stranded runners as the four-time defending PCL champs fell for the second time in five years at the regional level.
“All we had to do with that 3-0 lead was not make mistakes. Well we didn’t,” said Kalida skipper Joe Recker. “We made way too many errors and gave them all their runs. (Antwerp) loosened up and man they started playing good baseball. We did just the opposite.
“They made all the plays, my hats off to them. They played better than we did.”
For seniors like Brett Fulk, Cole Seslar, Keaton Altimus, Hines and Nathan Lee, the run to state is the culmination of the struggles over the last decade to get Antwerp baseball to prominence.
For sophomores like Lichty and Geyer and freshman starters like catcher Chase Clark and Krouse, it appears to be the beginning of something special.
“I don’t even know what to say. We came together and knew we could get it done,” said Altimus. “When I came in here as a freshman, all the sports were down. It just feels great. Football season we had a winning record (first since 2007), basketball season we finished with 15 wins and now we’re going to state.”
Kalida 300 000 000 — 3 6 3
Antwerp 011 001 001 — 4 7 1
Records: Antwerp 19-5, Kalida 18-5.
Winning pitcher: Jacob Savina (2 innings, 0 runs, 0 hits, 3 strikeouts, 1 walk). Other: Luke Krouse (7 innings, 3 runs, 6 hits, 11 strikeouts, 3 walks).
Losing pitcher: Tyler Klausing (3 innings, 1 run, 2 hits, 1 strikeout, 1 walk). Other: Josh Recker, Owen Recker.
Leading hitters: (Kalida) — Owen Recker single, double; Josh Recker double. (Antwerp) — Jason Geyer 2 singles; Keaton Altimus 2 singles; Cole Seslar 2 singles; Luke Krouse double.