Division III, Region 11 Final
Minford 4, West Lafayette Ridgewood 1
COLUMBUS — Behind a complete game, nine-strikeout performance from Ethan Lauder and excellent production from its No. 5 through No. 9 hitters in the batting order, the Minford Falcons’ baseball program, for the first time in the history of the program, obtained a state final berth in the sport by defeating the West Lafayette Ridgewood Generals’ baseball program, 4-1, in a Division III, Region 11 Final that was held at Bill Davis Stadium on the campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus.
And it all came on Aaron Hopper’s 28th birthday.
“There’s been a few things that’s happened on my birthday that have been pretty good,” Hopper said. “A couple of days after my birthday — two years in a row — I was a part of two national championship-winning teams (at NCAA Division III Marietta College in 2011 and 2012), and this victory today ranks right up there with them. It’s a special group. They play together, and you just really can’t ask for anything more out of a baseball team than playing together. That’s exactly what happened today. It was good, good team baseball — some of the best team baseball that we’ve played for a couple of weeks.”
After both teams went scoreless in the opening inning of play, a hit-by-pitch by Reid Shultz, along with a one-out single from Bailey Rowe, allowed Minford to put runners at the corners with one down in the frame. When Ridgewood’s Chase Minet failed to get the glove on a pitch, Shultz motored on home to score the game’s first run as Minford took a 1-0 lead heading into the bottom half of the second frame of action.
“A lot of times, you have a lot of highs, and you fall off late in the season or you start slow and you catch fire late in the season,” Hopper said. “Luckily, we’ve been hitting the ball really well all year, whether it was the top half at the beginning of the year or the bottom half as of late. We just try to get our top three guys on, and we know that from three-through-nine, we can produce a couple of runs in there somewhere.”
The Generals, who defeated Berlin Hiland twice during the 2018 campaign and had won 20 of their last 25 contests coming into Friday’s Division III, Region 11 Final, answered as a double by Nick Morton allowed leadoff hitter Kaden
Smith to plate Morton and tie the score at one apiece.
Minford, however, had other ideas.
In the fourth frame of action, a double into the right center field gap by Nathan McCormick got the Falcons going again as Shultz singled to move McCormick to third, then Payton Davis followed with his own single back up the middle to bring in McCormick and give the Falcons the lead. Bailey Rowe then added a beauty of a sacrifice bunt down the first base line to score Shultz from third base, and nine-hole hitter Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis — who threw a complete-game nine-hitter with six strikeouts in a 6-2 victory over Valley yesterday evening — added in an RBI single up the middle of the diamond to score Davis from second base as the Falcons took a 4-1 lead after four innings of work.
“I don’t know,” Hopper said of how his team has continued to be so resilient despite its youth in age. “I don’t have the answer to why we play out of our age, but these guys definitely are a mature group, and they did not give up. I don’t know what to say. It’s really special for them because of the work that they’ve put in. This is the reason why we’re here, because we’ve worked hard, and they deserve it. They really do.”
From there, Lauder continued to stay in his groove. The junior, who worked his way out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first inning of play by striking out Zach Wright and forcing Connor Kunze into a flyout to center field, forced Ridgewood to leave eight batters on base by striking out nine and allowing four hits after the second inning of play en route to another clutch performance.
With the victory, Minford (24-2) will play Coldwater (25-6) in the Division III OHSAA State Semifinals on Thursday, May 31 at 4 p.m.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT