Falcons rally to state!

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The 2024 Division III Region 11 baseball champion Minford Falcons

Courtesy of Patrick Phillips of Glory Days Photography

LANCASTER —For only the second time ever, and the first time since 2018, the Minford Falcons are going to Akron for a shot at a baseball state championship.

In dramatic Falcon fashion, and against Scioto County rival and Ohio Valley Conference champion Portsmouth to boot, Minford made a thrilling comeback bid pay off in Friday’s Division III Region 11 final—erasing its 5-1 deficit to top the Trojans 6-5 at Lancaster’s Beavers Field.

Scioto County was assured of a regional baseball champion from Friday’s matchup, as the Falcons’ two tournament triumphs in the Region 11 bracket both saw a rally for the victory.

Against Barnesville, the Falcons scored the final 11 runs —after Barnesville scored all four of its in the second inning of the semifinal.

On Friday, they found themselves down early 3-0 —and 5-1 their deepest deficit.

But, they inched back to 5-3 with a run apiece in the fourth and fifth frames—before erupting for three sixth-inning runs to tie the game, take the lead, and ultimately capture the Region 11 championship.

The win raised Minford’s record to 23-6, as the Falcons were appearing in the regional title tilt for the fourth time in six years.

They won it six years ago, followed by runners-up in 2019 and 2021 —and were regional semifinalists in 2022, before falling to that year’s runner-up Fairland.

In the Southeast District Division III championship bout against archrival and top-seeded Wheelersburg, the sixth-seeded and seven-senior strong Falcons found their third meeting with the nine-senior laden Pirates the charm —winning that matchup 3-1.

Wheelersburg swept Minford as part of the Southern Ohio Conference Division III 10-game slate, and was last season’s regional runner-up.

“Unbelievably proud of this group of young men. I know our community feels the same about what we have accomplished so far also,” Minford head coach Eli Daniels said, after Friday’s game.

Senior members of the Minford High School baseball team are, from left, Cam Thacker, Isaac Porter, Grant Wheeler, Mason Book, Rhyan Queen, Carson Cronin and Kyle Laxton.

Courtesy of Patrick Phillips of Glory Days Photography

In the first inning, Camron Williams got it going for the Trojans — after reaching base and scoring on a passed ball to make it 1-0.

It then appeared that senior southpaw pitcher Deandre Berry had it working for Portsmouth — with scoreless first and second innings.

After a two-run second inning, he went into the top of the third with a 3-0 lead.

Portsmouth senior pitcher Deandre Berry

Courtesy of Randy and Joann Waugh

Then the Falcons’ bats came to life.

Playing their brand of “small ball”, Carson Cronin got a leadoff bunt single.

Rhyan Queen continued his hot streak later in the inning, scoring Cronin on a baseknock for a 3-1 game.

Portsmouth refused to lay down, though.

Zach Roth hit a sharp basehit to centerfield to score another run, and he would come around himself to score on a deep double from Nik Copley.

Minford found itself in another hole 5-1, but this would be all the runs Portsmouth would get.

Cronin singled again in the fourth, this time driving in a run rather than scoring.

Now it was 5-2.

The next time up for Minford, Grant Wheeler scored a run all on his own — without swinging the bat.

Minford senior Grant Wheeler (13)

Courtesy of Patrick Phillips of Glory Days Photography

Reaching base via a hit by pitch, an error on a pickoff attempt from Berry sent him to third, and he completed his trip around after scoring on a passed ball for a 5-3 ballgame.

In the sixth, things were getting dire for Minford, but the team never laid down.

“Laying down isn’t in their vocabulary. Just when you think we are out of the game, someone steps up and gets things rolling for us.” Daniels said about the fight of his ballclub.

Cronin got his third basehit to score another run, and it was now a one-run game at 5-4.

Mason Book came up to the plate, and had the biggest knock of his life, tripling to deep centerfield to tie the game.

This was almost immediately one-upped — after Wheeler did the same to take the lead.

Wheeler came on to pitch with one out and a runner on third base in the bottom half of the inning as well.

He performed as clutch as they come, striking out Copley and inducing a groundout to end the inning without allowing a run.

With the heart of the order coming up in the seventh, Wheeler stayed on.

With one runner on via an error, Trevin Brooks popped up to the infield.

Game over, and unfortunately for them the season over for the final 25-7 Trojans —as the Falcons celebrated on the mound.

The Minford Falcons celebrate their 6-5 victory over Portsmouth on Friday for the Division III Region 11 baseball championship at Lancaster’s Beavers Field.

Courtesy of Patrick Phillips of Glory Days Photography

For Portsmouth, it was a season full of defying expectations, per head coach Aaron Duncan.

“We graduated two all-state players last year and the expectations coming into this season may not have been this type of season, but it’s a testament to the kids that went before us and the kids that are still in the program,” he said.

Portsmouth junior Colin Perry (12) slides in for a run past Minford catcher J.D. Matiz.

Courtesy of Randy and Joann Waugh

The Trojans won their first district championship since 1997 —and was last season’s runner-up at that level to Valley.

Minford was the district runner-up against Eastern Brown a year ago —as Daniels didn’t want a repeat —he said in the preseason for this year.

“The expectation for this season is high. I don’t want to end it like we ended it last year. I want to go as far as these guys want to go and even further. We’re expecting great things. We’ll see what we’re made of,” he said, in late March.

It’s now early June —and the Falcons face the Flyers of Millbury Lake in Saturday’s Division III state semifinals.

First pitch is set for 10 a.m. at Akron’s Canal Park.

These Falcons are the second squad from Scioto County —and the big-school SOC division —to play in Akron for the state tournament.

Three years ago, Valley represented in the Division IV tournament against Lincolnview.

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Sports Editor Paul Boggs contributed to this report

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