MINFORD — In a big game, on a big stage, Minford’s big players came up … well, big.
Behind Ethan Lauder on the mound, Reid Schultz at the plate and Darius Jordan in the outfield, the undefeated Falcons stayed perfect with a 5-3 win over Wheelersburg, Wednesday.
Minford (11-0, 7-0 SOC II) has passed test after test this season. But none have been more important than Wednesday night’s.
“This was a big win. Any win is a big win, but Wheelersburg is a tough team,” Minford coach Anthony Knittel said. “They’re fundamentally sound and led by a good coach in Derek Moore. This stage, we knew what was at stake, these kids stepped up to the challenge. It helps us keep rolling. Once momentum rolls on your side, you just got to go with it. I’m so proud of these kids.”
On the hill, Lauder was steady for the better part of 6 ⅔ innings. The senior allowed the Pirates (7-3, 6-1 SOC II) to put the ball in play but trusted his defense to get the job done.
“Ethan Lauder has been our guy all year. That kid is a competitor,” Knittel said. “Day in, day out, he mentally and physically prepares for what’s in front of him. There is no stage that’s too big for that kid. He has thrown the ball, commanded it well and let his defense work. That’s fun to watch. Ethan loves it. He loves to get everybody involved and that’s awesome.”
While Wheelersburg had nine hits, the Pirates continually left runners stranded on the base paths — including two that were standing in scoring position in the top of the seventh inning.
Meanwhile, Minford took advantage of its earned opportunities against Wheelersburg starter Trey Carter. The lefty allowed just four hits but was forced to repeatedly work out of jams.
“Trey Carter is a great player,” Knittel said. “Every year he’s faced us, he’s came out and brought his game. My hat’s off to him. I respect him. When you have a great pitcher on the mound, you’ve got to do anything you can do to get him off his game. I think by us getting on base and trying to apply pressure … that wears somebody down.”
In the third, Minford’s pressure got to Carter.
Trailing 1-0, the Falcons drew three straight walks to begin the inning. With the bases loaded, Elijah Vogelsong hit into a fielder’s choice, forcing a 1-1 tie. Later, with two outs, Reid Shultz logged an RBI double, scoring Brayden Davis and, on the three pitches later, Jordan scampered home on a passed ball.
All of the sudden, the Falcons had a 3-1 lead.
“[The third inning] was huge,” Knittel said. “That’s what got the ball rolling. We got runners on base and then we did what we like to do, which is run. We put as much pressure as we can on our opponent. We put the ball in play and good things happened.”
Wheelersburg eventually tied the game, 3-3, scoring two runs in the top of the fifth thanks to an RBI single from Connor Mullins and a throwing error, allowing Mullins to score.
However, in the bottom half of the inning, Jordan drew a one-out walk before Vogelsong striped a ball down the right field line. He raced all the way home with an inside-the-park home run and gave the Falcons a two-run lead they’d never relinquish.
In the top of the seventh, Mullins started a two-out rally by drawing a walk. Jalen Miller then doubled to put runners at second and third with the go-ahead run coming to the plate. However, Shultz — in relief of Lauder — got Cole Ratcliff to pop out, sealing the win for Minford.
Anthony Knittel, at 11-0, still hasn’t lost a game yet as Minford’s head coach. But he wouldn’t give himself any credit if you paid him to do so. Instead, it’s rationed out to those around him.
“I just really want to thank my assistant coaches. I’m so proud of everyone that I have in that dugout,” Knittel said. “My brother Brady, Austin Howard, Jacob McCaleb, Tyler Spriggs and Aaron Ostrowski, and I want to give a huge shoutout to those guys. I’m nothing without them.”
Vogelsong led the Falcons at the plate, going 1-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs while Shultz was 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Mullins paced Wheelersburg, going 1-for-3 with a run and an RBI while Miller was 2-for-4 with a double. Will Darling also collected two hits and scored.
The two SOC II titans get right back after each other, Friday evening at Wheelersburg, for the final installment of this year’s two-game series.
“We know ‘Burg isn’t going to lay down. They’re going to come in and do what they do,” Knittel said. “They’re going to compete and we’re going to face another good arm. We just have to focus on what’s in our dugout and play hard, aggressive baseball.”