CHILLICOTHE — Just before the start of this season, Minford’s Ethan Lauder looked at head coach Anthony Knittel and spoke four words that have since defined the Falcons’ season.
“Coach, I want to win.”
Knittel simply replied, “That’s what we’re going to do.”
Since that conversation, that’s exactly what the Falcons have done — claiming conference, sectional and district crowns along the way.
Thursday, with a 7-2 win over Westfall in a Division III regional semifinal, Minford (29-1) took another step towards winning its second consecutive regional title … and they did so while riding yet another stellar pitching performance from Lauder.
“From day one, Ethan came in and said, ‘Coach, I want to win.’ That says a lot about that kid,” Knittel said. “Being a senior, coming into a big game and just doing what he does … that’s what he’s done all year long. Every game he pitches, we’re in that game. I’m extremely proud of him.”
Lauder’s final line included all seven innings as the senior allowed two earned runs on six hits and struck out four.
His offense, meanwhile, had trouble figuring out Westfall’s Lucas Blackburn. But once they did, all bets were off.
“Blackburn is a good pitcher. I think really highly of that kid after watching him throw, and he’s only a sophomore,” Knittel said. “But we figured out he only had a fastball today. He had trouble commanding his off-speed stuff. So we figured out he was a one-pitch guy, figured out how he was trying to pitch us, and when you know what’s coming, that makes things a lot easier.”
Blackburn breezed through the first four innings and even retired the first six batters he faced. But in the top of the fifth, he ran into trouble and the Falcons took advantage of every opportunity they had.
Ethan Lauder started the frame with a single before Luke Lindamood and Nathan McCormick reached on a walk and a base hit, respectively. With two outs and the bases loaded, nine-hole hitter Bailey Rowe watched four straight balls cross the plate, tying the game 1-1.
Brayden Davis then proceeded to cash in on his own bases loaded opportunity, lining a two-run single into centerfield and giving the Falcons a 3-1 edge.
In the sixth, the Falcons went shopping for insurance.
After Elijah Vogelsong walked, Lauder and Reid Shultz logged back-to-back singles, allowing Vogelsong to score. On the same play, Westfall made its first of two errors on the day, sending Lauder home and handing Minford a 5-1 edge.
Later in the inning, Rowe and Nathan McCormick knocked in runs to round out Minford’s final. The Mustangs (23-5) got a run back in the seventh but Lauder shut down any sniff of a further scoring threat to put the win on ice.
Lauder was also 2-for-3 at the plate with two runs and a walk, Rowe finished 1-for-2 with a walk and two RBIs, Davis was 1-for-4 with two RBIs and McCormick went 1-for-3 with two runs and an RBI.
Westfall was led by Williams, who was 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI while Frazier finished 2-for-3 with an RBI.
The Falcons advance to play West Lafayette Ridgewood, a 3-0 winner over West Jefferson, in a Division III regional final at 5 p.m., Friday at Ohio Dominican University.
“I think, from last year’s experience at that level, we just have to play one pitch, one out and one inning at a time,” Knittel said. “We just have to do what we do and play how we’ve played all season. It’s awesome that we’re there. It’s just awesome. I’m ready to go.”
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