ELIDA — Wayne Trace junior pitcher Cooper Wenzlick hit 89 miles-per-hour on the radar gun, and that gave the Raiders enough ammunition to knock No. 1-ranked Eastwood out of the Division III tournament.
Wenzlick held Eastwood to five hits as the Raiders came from behind to defeat the Eagles, 3-2, at Elida High School’s Ed Sandy Field in a district semifinal Thursday.
“That’s what he does,” Wayne Trace coach Ryne Jerome said. “That’s what he’s done for us all year.
“He’s played a lot of baseball and he’s pitched in big games his whole life, and so we were very confident, obviously, handing the ball to him in a game like this.
“He’s tough, he doesn’t get rattled, and when they put the ball in play on him, when they get a few hits, he adjusts as well as anybody you have or as well as anybody you would see in this game, so credit to him. He did a fabulous job today.”
Wenzlick was also mixing in a slider that reached the low 70s in MPH, striking out four and walking none in getting the complete game victory, but he did hit one batter.
“They got a great pitching performance and clutch hitting and that is how you win in the tournament,” Eastwood coach Kevin Leady said.
The Raiders (21-5) advanced to take on Coldwater, which defeated Ottawa-Glandorf 6-1 in the other semifinal, in the district championship Saturday. Jerome says knocking off the No. 1 team was on the Raiders’ radar for weeks.
“I’d be lying if I told you that we weren’t thinking about them being No. 1. No doubt about it,” Jerome said.
“It was in our minds, it was talked about in our dugout, at practice, really since the tournament draw happened,” Jerome continued.
“We talked all through the last two to three weeks about, ‘Hey, we’ve got a shot to take on the No. 1 team in the state.’ We felt like, ‘Hey, you know, we are going to have to beat them at some point, so let’s go ahead and do it.’”
That doesn’t mean Eastwood was unable to hit Wenzlick — the Eagles were able to time his pitches and make contact, it’s just that opportunities were lost when two baserunners were picked off, and after scoring one run in the fifth, the Eagles left the bases loaded, passing up a chance to put up a crooked number.
Eastwood did get to Wenzlick long before the Raiders got to Eastwood senior pitcher Ethan Rapp, and it was Rapp who got it started.
In the bottom of the third, Rapp led off with a double along the right field line, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by junior Brandon Falls and scored on senior Case Boos’ double along the left field line.
In the fifth, Falls reached on an error, advanced on sophomore Colton Woodward’s base hit and scored when Boos singled to left field, giving the Eagles a 2-0 lead.
On the mound in the sixth, Rapp got sophomore Tyler Head to fly out to senior center fielder Tristan Schuerman and junior Tucker Antoine to hit a grounder to third, played perfectly in the hot corner by junior Andrew Badenhop.
Eastwood was just four outs from advancing to the district final, and one out from closing out the sixth inning with a two-run lead when four straight WT batters reached base, three of them scoring.
“We felt pretty good at that point, but you know, it’s baseball,” Leady said. “You’ve got to play every pitch. They did that and I must give them a lot of credit for that.”
The rally began when Rapp walked junior Breven Anderson, who stole second. Junior Cale Winans drove in Anderson with a base hit to right field.
Wenzlick followed with another base hit, and senior Kyle Slade followed with a double to center field, scoring Winans and Wenzlick to give the Raiders their 3-2 lead.
“That’s a tough situation and they battled their butts off to get those,” Leady said. “It could have been an easy third out, but it wasn’t, and they put themselves in a great position to win.
“When you play a team of that caliber, you can’t take a pitch off. We didn’t do that, but they just battled and battled and got the bat on the ball and got a couple hits in a clutch situation. You have to credit them.”
Eastwood senior Jackson Bauer led off the bottom half of the sixth by reaching on an error, and he advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt laid down by sophomore Kadyn Donnell.
But Bauer was picked off at second on a throw from the catcher, Tucker, and Wenzlick got Rapp to ground out to Winans at shortstop to end any threat. Wenzlick then took down the Eagles in order in the seventh.
Rapp struck out five, walked one batter, and gave up just four hits, including three in the sixth inning.
“Ethan did an incredible job,” Leady said. “It’s hard to keep a team like that down through seven, but he did into the sixth.
“They just kept battling and battling and put themselves into a situation where they got a big two-out hit, they went ahead, and boy, did they?”
Eastwood sees its season end at 26-2 and an outright Northern Buckeye Conference championship (14-0), but there was little doubt that one of their goals was to win a district championship.
“I’m just proud of these guys,” Leady said. “Every day we show up and we ask them to just don’t look at yesterday, don’t look at tomorrow, just come today and try to do your best. They did that.
“I’m very proud that these guys bought in from day one. It took something special to knock us off and boy, were they?”