Regardless of the result of Thursday’s Division IV regional semifinals, historic seasons will add new chapters at Garrold Parratt Field in Hamler as Antwerp, Colonel Crawford, Kalida and McComb descend on Patrick Henry High School, all with eyes on state glory.
With just two wins separating the quartet from the Division IV state tournament in Akron next week, the opportunity to make a mark on the history of each respective program is apparent.
For all but Kalida, the chance to play at state is new ground, however.
Antwerp won its first district championship in school history with an 11-1 win over Montpelier in Friday’s district championship at Bryan, continuing a historic season for the 17-5 Archers in a year where the Blue-and-White have already nabbed the school’s first-ever Green Meadows Conference title.
Their opponent at 2 p.m. on Thursday snapped a drought that likely felt as long, as North Robinson Colonel Crawford (22-7) snapped a 54-year stretch between district titles with an 8-1 win over Northern 10 Athletic Conference rival Mohawk in the Galion District.
With potent lineups that have earned a great deal of contributions from underclassmen, along with a pair of talented arms on each side, the early contest on Thursday marks a bit of a mirror image for the two sides.
“I feel like there’s quite a few similarities between the two teams,” said Antwerp coach Zac Feasby of the matchup against Colonel Crawford, which does not have a senior on its roster in 2019. “ Them not having any seniors might be the main difference but even without any seniors, there’s obviously been some guys that have stepped up and taken on some leadership roles.
“I feel like they’re going to be playing with the same nothing-to-lose mentality because it’s been such a long time for them too. I expect to see everybody’s best game at this point. There’s a reason why the team you’re playing is there.”
Antwerp enters the regional level having allowed just two hits in three games as sophomore Austin Lichty (4-0, 32 innings, 0.00 ERA, 45 strikeouts) threw a perfect game in the sectional finals before a no-hitter against Edon in the district semifinals.
Freshman Luke Krouse (6-0, 35.1 innings, 0.59 ERA, 45 strikeouts) wasn’t shabby either, holding Montpelier to just two base hits and no earned runs in the Archers’ district final triumph.
With Lichty likely to start Thursday, the sophomore right-hander will face a balanced lineup from the Eagles, who are hitting .312 as a team. Paced by junior pitcher and first baseman Gavin Feichtner’s .415 average (39 hits, 1 home run, 27 RBIs, 13 steals) and freshman Carson Feichtner (.394, 28 hits, 15 RBIs), Colonel Crawford brings plenty of firepower to the batters box.
Sophomore Cade Hamilton adds some pop with a .376 average, four doubles, a pair of triples and 15 home runs in 29 games for the Eagles, along with Brock Ritzhaupt (So., P/IF/OF, .337, 29 hits, 10 doubles, 22 RBIs).
The run to regionals has been especially sweet for coaching veteran Dan Gorbett. Gorbett re-took the reins of the Eagles’ program after nearly 25 years away, having served as CC head coach from 1981-95 before stints at Galion and Ontario. Gorbett, who has 557 career victories, guided the Eagles to nine district final appearances in his first go-round but never got over the hump until 2019.
“It’s been pretty amazing how we’ve progressed from the first game to where we are now,” explained Gorbett, who has guided Colonel Crawford to a resurrection in 2019 following a 4-20 season last year and a 3-4 start to this campaign. “It seems like we keep getting better and gaining more confidence.
“I don’t think the kids realized how amazing (the district title) is until after the fact. We’ve been close over the years with some trips to the district finals and some close games.”
Colonel Crawford is far from untested with a round-robin schedule in the Northern 10 slate that sees each team play each other twice. This season, the Eagles are joined in the regional level by league champion Upper Sandusky (22-5, 14-2), which will battle Archbold in the D-III Elida Regional and Seneca East (17-11, 10-6), which will compete in the Division IV Strongsville Regional after knocking off top district seed Greenwich South Central.
CC knocked off fellow N-10 squad Mohawk in the district finals and a fourth conference outfit, Morral Ridgedale, advanced to its own district semifinal in D-IV before falling to regional qualifier Newark Catholic.
On the mound, Colonel Crawford can counter Antwerp’s dynamic duo with a pair of talented arms of its own. Sophomore Drayton Burkhart, along with spending time as an infielder (.264, 23 hits, 6 RBIs) is the main horse on the mound for the Eagles with a 10-2 record and 104 strikeouts in 85.1 innings pitched this season while Gavin Feichtner is right behind with a 6-3 mark and 69 punchouts in 58.2 frames.
Along with Hamilton (3-1, 18 strikeouts, 21.2 innings), the battery of arms will be plenty tested against an Antwerp roster batting .322 overall. Senior center fielder Cole Seslar, a Findlay football commit, ripped a triple off the fence at Bryan to spark the Archers’ victory and has 12 extra-base hits to go along with a .300 average that is good for seventh among players with at least 60 at-bats.
Krouse leads the Archers with a .459 average, 13 doubles and 28 RBIs along with a pair of home runs, joined by senior second baseman Keaton Altimus (.443, 21 hits, 5 doubles, 27 runs), Lichty (.397, 27 hits, 8 RBIs), Dylan Hines (Sr., first base, .358, 24 hits, 8 doubles, 13 RBIs), Jacob Savina (Jr., shortstop, .320, 24 hits, 15 RBIs).
With Blake Schuette (Jr., LF, .258, 16 hits, 22 RBIs), Brett Fulk (Sr., catcher, .286, 14 hits, 15 RBIs) and Jason Geyer (So., RF, .226, 12 hits) rounding out a balanced lineup, the talent is there to contend but the Archers’ calm, unflappable demeanor is what’s propelled Antwerp this far.
“I think the big thing with some young guys pitching is making sure they understand the other team’s going to make some plays and that’s OK,” said Feasby. “In the past, I’ve had teams that if they had the two errors in the first inning like we did (against Montpelier), we would shut down and it would be over. I’ve never seen this resiliency in teams I’ve had before. We don’t let things snowball.”
“I feel like our guys shouldn’t feel pressure at all. We’ve never been here so you don’t have anything to lose. We’re not familiar with this but with the situation we’re in, we’re playing with an underdog mentality.”
“The team that doesn’t make mistakes is the one who’s got a good shot of moving on,” added Gorbett. “At the beginning of the year, we were horrendous defensively, six, seven errors a game and even a game with nine errors. I’m happy where our defense is right now but in games like this, you’ve got to be able to handle adversity, be mentally tough and don’t fold.”
In the 5 p.m. semifinal on Thursday, Kalida will get its shot at the program’s first trip to state since 2006, thanks to a thrilling 3-2 10-inning victory over Putnam County League rival Miller City in a district final played at Defiance High School.
The No. 11 Wildcats (18-4) reached regionals last in 2016 with a loss to Fort Recovery but have tasted heartbreak in the last two seasons with losses to Lima Central Catholic in 2018 (2-1) and Leipsic in 2017 (6-2).
Paced by Bowling Green State University commit Owen Recker (5-1, 0.27 ERA, 97 strikeouts, 52 innings), the Wildcats claimed their fourth straight Putnam County League crown this year and shook off some district blues. Despite their gaudy record, however, the ‘Cats will need to overcome a foe that got the best of them this season in the McComb Panthers.
McComb (20-5) is in its first regional since 2015, where they lost to eventual regional champion Hicksville. Do-it-all football star Tanner Schroeder has taken his talents equally high on the diamond as the Panthers’ ace on the mound.
The future University of Findlay wide receiver also can make things happen as the plate, as Schroeder sent the Panthers to regionals with a walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the seventh to defeat Leipsic 3-2 in the district finals while striking out seven in a complete-game win.
McComb defeated Kalida in a 1-0 classic on April 13 as Schroeder struck out 10 in a two-hit shutout, outdueling Kalida’s No. 2 arm in Josh Recker (6-1, 1.04 ERA, 35 strikeouts, 40.1 innings), who struck out nine while allowing three hits in the April setback that snapped a 7-0 start.
Trevor Lambert leads Kalida at the dish with a .418 average, nine doubles and 23 RBIs – all team highs – while Zach Von der Embse (.292, 19 hits, 11 RBIs) was the hero in the Miller City game with a walk-off inside-the-park home run. Luke Erhart (.343, 23 hits, 11 RBIs), Ethan Schmenk (.300, 18 hits, 16 RBIs) and Gabe Hovest (.302, 16 hits, 12 RBIs) will also be looked at as key contributors.
SCHEDULE CHANGE: With the Antwerp softball team competing in the Division IV state semifinals at 3 p.m. on Friday, a potential change in the regional baseball schedule could occur. If Antwerp defeats Colonel Crawford to advance to the regional finals, the game will be moved from Friday evening at 5 p.m. to Saturday at noon. This change will only be made should Antwerp defeat Colonel Crawford.