The local state ACME déjà vu scenario is set to continue tomorrow at Veterans Field on the grounds of Coldwater Memorial Park when diamondeers from Bryan (24-2) and Archbold (15-7) assume what has become a common stance among the eight best teams in Ohio.
Both being NWOAL major players during the spring high school season, the Bryan and Archbold boys of summer have locked into the state ACME brackets for the third consecutive go-round. While Bryan – District 1 winners and current defending ACME state champs – are back in the summer saddle for a third time, a successful romp through District 2 has claimed a fourth straight state appearance for Archbold – back-to-back kings of the hill in 2016 and 2017.
The 2019 State ACME Tournament is slated to get underway at high noon on Saturday, with an Archbold-Troy (District 7) showdown on tap to open a four-game quarterfinal round in the single-elimination tournament.
The action – and the temperature – only heats up from there, as Minster (District 4) battles Van Wert (District 5) at 2:30 p.m. followed by Bryan versus West Liberty-Salem (District 6) at 5 p.m. before Anthony Wayne (District 3) and host Coldwater close the show at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday’s survivors will take the field to settle semifinal scores on Sunday, all leading up to Monday’s championship game at 7 p.m. for all the marbles.
“It says a lot about the NWOAL and the toughness that has come out of there,” said fifth-year Archbold head coach Kirk Weldy of once again sharing the state stage with Bryan. “We’ve got a couple league titles; they’ve got quite a few league titles. They’re a tough team one-through-nine, and I have all the respect for Bryan, and what (high school varsity mentor) Jeff Inselmann does over there is beyond a lot of stuff. He’s really put a good program together. We try to match some of the stuff that they do just because they’re having success and we’re having success.”
Bryan’s success includes a 2018 state crown that, incidentally, came by way of a 3-0 blanking over Archbold in last year’s title scrap.
And with a horde of seniors-to-be packing the diamond, this summer’s roster has put up a dizzying record behind a rock-solid pitching rotation and championship experience all over the field.
“With this team, they’ve got the tools to go back-to-back to win it. There’s no doubt in my mind about that,” said fifth-year Bryan skipper Doug Williamson. “If we show up and play like we know how and hit like we know how, we can get the job done.”
The Golden Bears’ baseball bravado was in full effect through the District 1 brackets with their backs against the proverbial wall. Needing two wins on Monday against Defiance with a loss on its tab, Bryan fought out of the loser’s bracket and clipped the Bulldogs doubleheader-style to continue its bid for a state title defense.
After nipping Defiance 3-1 to force a second game in the double-elimination district tourney, the Bears dropped bombs in a 13-4 triumph to close the brackets as District 1 champions.
“They knew what they had to do going into the game and they were ready to do it,” said Williamson. “Most of this team are going to be seniors. It was going to be their last time and they wanted to keep playing.
“They just looked at it as win or go home, and they wanted to keep winning,” he added. “They were ready for the game. There was no doubt about it.”
Bryan has been fueled mainly by a three-pronged pitching prod led by experienced hurlers Benny Roebuck, Dom James and Trevor Ward, all of which are prepping for their senior high school outings.
Ward strong-armed Defiance for just one run and five hits in Monday’s do-or-die opener, going the distance for the victory that kept the district dream alive. Roebuck took it from there in the championship game, backed up by senior Logan Clemens for the crown.
While Roebuck’s arm only needed to go three frames, his bat was a beast that produced five RBIs and an inside-the-park grand slam after already ripping a single and double in the early game.
“That’s huge when you can have three pitchers – even technically four because I’ve got (junior) Nolan Kidston I can go to as well,” said Williamson. “You know how they say you’ve got pitchers, and you’ve just got throwers that just throw the ball? To me, a pitcher is someone who knows how to pitch. We actually have true pitchers that can actually pitch, in my opinion, where it’s just not throwers.”
Roebuck – also a sure-gloved shortstop – is joined by junior DH Breven Deckrosh, senior catcher Nate Miller and Brooks Brown as the biggest Bryan bats.
All of the above and then some will be needed in order to hold off a West Liberty-Salem squad that outlasted Mechanicsburg for a District 6 title and a state date with the Golden Bears. The winner of Saturday’s Bryan-WLS game will face either Anthony Wayne or Coldwater on Sunday at 5 p.m.
While Bryan cracked the state level behind a ton of experience, Archbold joined the party on an entirely different route with a much steeper learning curve.
And when the Bluestreaks get things rolling against Troy on Saturday to open the tournament, they will be making the program’s fourth consecutive appearance relying on a pack of relatively new faces who grew up quickly in order to make their own brand.
“We had a conversation actually at the beginning of the season, kind of what our expectations were,” said Weldy. “We lost 10 seniors this spring and a pretty darn good class setting that bar, and I don’t think there was a single guy on the team that wanted to bring that bar backwards.
“So from the get-go we kind of set our expectations, and some of our goals were to get back down to state and keep that train running from the last three years into this year.”
While possibly waiting their turn behind such a skilled outgoing senior class, the Streaks definitely hung some veteran-esque numbers while steamrolling their way through the District 2 ranks with eyes on a state prize.
Led by leading hitters DJ Newman (So., .557), Brandon Taylor (Jr., .403), Drake Mohring (Sr., .415), Dawson Liechty (.448) and Noah Garcia (.352, Sr.), Archbold hammered its way to a 41-11 total edge through a trio of district duels. After a 14-run onslaught in the seventh frame of a 19-3 triumph over Ottawa-Glandorf, the Streaks went 14-4 and 8-4 in a pair of wins over Kalida to seal the district deal and secure weekend plans at Coldwater.
“We’ve had some bumpy roads. We’ve had some guys that haven’t played with each other, so we’ve kind of made that our goal after some of our losses,” said Weldy, now working with six seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and a freshman. “Once we got to tournament time, the records and everything we did in the regular season was out the door and we were set to go to get down to Coldwater.
“We have some guys that have been on the previous teams that have stepped up in leadership and guided some of our other guys that haven’t been in that situation to get going and moving through the tournament,” he said.
Senior-to-be Ethan Hagans has handled the bulk of the pitching duties after getting the job done in a successful spring campaign, while Newman and Taylor have also been solid go-to guys on the bump. But according to Weldy, seeing a fielding effort come together the way it has is a big reason the Bluestreaks are once more state-bound.
And if the propensity to pound out runs continues the way it has through the district level, it is all coming together at just the right time to be back in the thick of a state championship hunt.
“I would say our defense has really kept us in ballgames,” said the Archbold frontman. “Our bats have king of got rolling over the last couple of games which gives us a little bit of confidence, but we’ve got guys that are just tough cookies and have played hard. And sometimes, especially in the dog days of summer, that’s what you need to grind through.”
The Streaks are up against a mysterious Troy squad that dealt Versailles a 3-0 blanking in order to reach the state quarters, and as is often the case at this level, info is often scarce or sparse.
So if they are to advance to Sunday’s 2:30 p.m. semifinal against the Minster-Van Wert winner, it will require continuing to rely on dependable pitching, lights-out fielding and thunderstorm hitting.
All while relishing a ride that never gets old at Archbold.
“I just told the guys we’ve got to play our game and let the chips fall the way they fall. I don’t think they’ve been here, at least the last four years, so hopefully we can have a little bit of experience on them and take advantage of that.
“I enjoy making those trips, and these kids are having the fun experiences to go down there and face some good competition, especially around the area,” he concluded. “So it will be a fun weekend for the boys.”