AKRON — In a season of firsts, be it conference, district or regional championships, Antwerp came up a win short of a previously-unrealized dream on Friday in the Division IV state semifinals at Akron’s Canal Park.
The Archers’ magical run to the state tournament was cut short in abrupt fashion by a talented Toronto squad in an 8-0 setback that saw the Archers muster just four singles.
Toronto star shortstop and Ohio State commit Nate Karaffa dazzled for the Red Knights (27-5), drilling two doubles and a three-run triple to spur his squad to its first state final since winning the 1998 Division IV state championship.
Toronto will take on Jeromesville Hillsdale today at 1 p.m. for the D-IV state crown after Hillsdale used a second-inning RBI sacrifice fly to defeat Minster, 1-0.
The start of the Antwerp-Toronto game, previously slated for 7 p.m., did not see a first pitch until 8:35 p.m. thanks to a record 13-inning Division I state semifinal between Cleveland St. Ignatius and Hilliard Darby.
Uncharacteristic flaws spelled doom for the Archers (19-6), as Antwerp made a pair of outs at second base with baserunning mistakes and committed a pair of errors in the loss.
“When you’re playing a team as good as Toronto and you have errors and other defensive mistakes, you’re going to get beat every time,” lamented Antwerp skipper Zac Feasby. “It was simple things like getting a secondary (lead) too early at second base and making sure the pitcher doesn’t commit to the plate.
“Stuff like that hasn’t happened to us all season. We fell behind and just couldn’t catch up.”
Toronto constructed a 4-0 lead through six frames and salted away the game with a four-run uprising in the top of the seventh.
Unfortunately for the Archers, Toronto junior A.J. Clegg and the Red Knight defense clamped down, holding Antwerp off the scoreboard for just the second time all year.
Clegg struck out seven in a four-hit shutout for Toronto while helping his own cause from the eighth spot in the batting order with two base hits and a run scored.
After Tristan Thomas reached on a fielder’s choice that forced a second out, junior Zac Berger ripped a triple to right field to put the Red Knights on the board 1-0 in the first before Antwerp sophomore starter Austin Lichty struck out Clegg to end the threat.
The third inning saw Toronto score two more runs thanks to a pair of Archer errors. As Brendan Matyas raced to third on a steal attempt, the pickoff throw was off line and went to left field, allowing Matyas to score. Following a two-out double from Karaffa, an error in center field scored Karaffa to up the lead to 3-0.
The fourth inning marked the third straight frame the Red Knights found the scoreboard. Berger tallied a one-out single, moved to second on a wild pitch and then to third on a Clegg single. One batter later, Berger raced home on another wild pitch to make it 4-0.
In that span, Antwerp stranded four runners, including runners at the corners in the third.
The Archers weren’t held completely silent, getting baserunners to second base in both the first and second innings but both were picked off with too-large leads looking towards third.
“I don’t feel like my team was nervous. We were still confident, we just made some early mistakes,” explained Feasby. “We just couldn’t put some hits together like we did against Kalida and get a run here or there.”
In the seventh, two singles and a walk loaded the bases for Karaffa, already with two hits to his name. The OHSBCA D-IV Player of the Year backed up the hardware with a hard-hit triple to deep right-center field.
The thrilling postseason run, coupled with the Antwerp softball team’s march to the Division IV state crown, revitalized a program and a community with previously-unseed exploits on the diamond.
“It’s so surreal. I can’t even put it to words,” said senior outfielder Cole Seslar, one of four seniors that played their final game in Blue-and-White. “Before the season we knew we had something special but you could never imagine this as a kid. This is your dream growing up. We could’ve done a lot of things better tonight but there’s a lot of things to come for Antwerp baseball.”
Lichty was tagged with the loss for the Archers, allowing four runs and six hits over six frames with five strikeouts. Lichty’s three earned runs allowed on Friday marked the first earned runs tagged off the sophomore standout all season long.
Seslar, Lichty, Dylan Hines and Blake Schuette tallied the four Archer hits in the season-ending setback for Antwerp, which started three sophomores, two freshmen and two juniors in the state semifinals.
“It’s been awesome for the community,” said Feasby. “Even though we came short, our softball team brought home that state championship. I think it’ll be motivation for next year to try and do the same thing.
“The softball team only had one senior, this team had four. The future’s bright.”