COLUMBUS — The baseball campaign that was 2018 provided a lifetime of memories for the members of the Minford Falcons’ baseball team and the loyal supporters that have followed the tight-knit group along their journey.
Two thrilling, come-from-behind victories over Wheelersburg and Waverly at home — which allowed Minford to win its first outright SOC II Championship in 50 years. A third come-from-behind victory over Crooksville in the Division III, Chillicothe II District Semifinals behind the efforts of senior Payton Davis, whose single back up the middle continued a run to ultimately remember. And the solid play of Minford’s defense, who combined to record just one error over four district/regional affairs, as well as the effective pitching duo of Ethan Lauder and Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis, who stranded 17 baserunners in Division III, Region 11 victories over Valley and West Lafayette Ridgewood, won’t be forgotten.
But whether a program wins it all or falls short of the ultimate prize, the run ultimately comes to an end at one point or another.
For Minford, that day proved to be Thursday as Coldwater, in a Division III OHSAA State Semifinal matchup, used effective two-out hitting to plate eight runs over the first two innings of action, which was a hole that the Falcons couldn’t dig their way out of as Minford fell by an 11-0 margin in five innings to see its magic carpet ride come to a close at Huntington Park in Columbus.
The effort in getting to this stage, however, was certainly of the yeoman’s variety — and something that second-year head coach Aaron Hopper is extremely proud of, even though Minford didn’t play up to its normal standard on Thursday.
“I don’t want to say that we overachieved, because getting to Huntington Park should be expected out of every team that you have, but these guys, for as young as they are, definitely played higher than expectations this year, especially with the numbers that we’ve got. We played loose all season. Today, we definitely did not play loose. In addition to Coldwater hitting the baseball well, we walked five batters and had five errors, and against a team like that, you can’t do that and expect to win. They’re a good ballclub and they will make you pay for mistakes, which is what they did to us today.”
After going down in 1-2-3 fashion to begin the first frame, Minford’s Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis looked as if he might do the same as the game’s opening batter, Austin Riethman, flied out innocently to center field.
The tune of the contest, however, proved to be set by Coldwater from there on in.
After a Sam Broering single and a passed ball, Jake Wenning and Nathan Grunden walked to load the bases with one gone in the inning, and a potential double play ball was dropped, which allowed Broering to strike with the first salvo from Coldwater.
Unfortunately for Minford, it wouldn’t be the last time that Coldwater struck. After Vogelsong-Lewis responded with a huge punchout, Seth Miller broke the gap open by launching a two-out single to left field to score both Wenning and Grunden. Jacob Hartings then followed with a single of his own to score Jack Muhlenkamp, and on a double steal, an errant throw allowed Miller to score.
By the time the first inning had come to a close, the Cavaliers had batted around, and had plated five runs on just three hits to put the Falcons in the biggest hole that it had faced all season.
“Three bases led to that inning (first frame) being what it was,” Hopper said. “It’s a totally different ballgame if we cut the combined total of walks and errors that we had in half. The confidence may still be there. I had to get up under the guys a little bit to build them back up. It is what it is. You don’t want to make excuses, but it’s a young team, and it’s good, valuable experience for us going forward.”
Unfortunately, it was the same song, different verse in the second inning, as well. After a one-out hit by Broering and a walk by Wenning, which chased Vogelsong-Lewis from the hill, Lauder came in and retired Grunden via a flyout.
However, just like much of the first inning, Coldwater came up big with clutch two-out hits to increase their advantage. A breaking pitch by Lauder was sent to left by Muhlenkamp, which allowed Broering to score, and on another hit up the middle, a wide throw pulled Payton Davis off of the first base bag, which allowed two additional runs to score as Wenning and Muhlenkamp came around. The Cavaliers had scored seven of their eight runs with two outs in both frames, and had broken the game wide-open as a result.
While two errors and an RBI double by Joey Welsch rounded out the Coldwater scoring, the young Minford bunch showed strong qualities. Reid Shultz lined a hard-hit shot to center field in the third frame, and Luke Lindamood made an excellent throw to gun Riethman, the leadoff batter in the contest, down after the junior attempted to steal second base. Payton Davis, along with Bailey Rowe, gave Minford base runners on first and second base with one out in the fifth frame when Davis wore a pitch in his final high school at-bat and Rowe singled to left with one down in the final stanza.
“At the same time, we have to be proud of the year that we had and the accomplishments that were made,” Hopper said. “It stinks, but it is what it is. There’s always going to be just one team that comes out of it, and unfortunately, it wasn’t us.”
With the season at its end, Minford (24-3) will bid their farewells to Payton Davis and Noah Baisden, who helped set the culture for what will go down as arguably the greatest baseball unit to come out of the school. Davis emerged to become a starter from wire-to-wire at first base, while Baisden was a part of the Minford dugout that brought infectious energy to every contest in 2018.
“Noah’s been great in the dugout for us,” Hopper said. “Through injury, he’s still been able to be a spark for us. I can’t say enough good things about Payton. He worked his butt off. Last year, he didn’t get to see the playing time that he would’ve probably liked, but he got his chance this year and made the most of it, especially here late. I couldn’t ask for any more out of him. He’s a good kid and a good, hard worker.”
Other than the pair, however, the Falcons return everybody else, including their top six batters in the order, eight of the nine everyday starters, and both of the pitchers that saw extensive work in 2018 — Vogelsong-Lewis and Lauder — along with fellow pitching hands in Shultz and Rowe.
However, in order to repeat, and build upon, the season that Minford was able to put together in 2018, the 2019 unit will have to keep the fire that was present in each of the 27 games that were played this season, and grow upon that.
“We have to make sure that we stay hungry,” Hopper said. “We’ve got to remember this and how it felt, and make sure that we don’t repeat this performance next year. We’re going to do everything that we can do in the offseason to make sure that we get better. That’s the main thing. We have the experience and we have the talent, so I believe we’ll be fine.”
With the victory, Coldwater (27-6) will play the winner of Canfield South Range (16-15) or Cincinnati Madeira (21-6) on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. in the OHSAA Division III State Championship Game, which will also be held at Huntington Park in Columbus
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT