CHILLICOTHE — The Minford Falcons baseball program has mastered the playbook for winning a Division III district championship in the last five years.
With their 4-0 win over Meigs in Wednesday’s district final at V.A. Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe, the Falcons captured their 3rd-straight district championship and subsequent place in next week’s regional tournament.
It’s also Minford’s fourth district in five years since 2016 and second in two tries under head coach Anthony Knittel (2019, 2021).
Knittel praised his players for their hard work all season and in the offseason after the win — their 21st straight triumph which improved their overall record to 23-2.
“These kids are awesome. Three years in a row these kids have worked extremely, put in time in the offseason. I’m a firm believer that your work in the offseason determines your outcome in May and June, and now it’s paying off,” Knittel said. “Those are the things you have to do to win district championships, that’s how you get to regionals and state and win a ring, and ultimately that’s the goal.”
The Falcons and Marauders’ meeting was impacted by a steady stream of rain for much of the contest which later subsided toward the end of the seven inning affair.
As the rain came to a halt, so too did Minford’s scoreless start.
The Falcons entered the home half of the sixth with just one hit but quickly broke that trend beginning with a leadoff hit by sophomore Cole Borland.
Borland stole second and was scored by junior leadoff man Grant Wheeler who sent a double up the left field line, giving the Falcons a 1-0 lead with one out in the sixth.
Shortstop Adam Crank then drove in Wheeler on an RBI single and was moved to third on a double off the wall by senior Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis.
Sophomore third baseman Aodhan Queen drove in his two runners in scoring position in Crank and Vogelsong-Lewis with a one-out single, giving the Falcons a 4-0 lead as they needed just three outs in the seventh to keep EV-L’s shutout intact.
Minford collected six hits and batted around in the sixth as Knittel gave Borland credit for getting the late-game surge going with his leadoff single.
“Extremely proud of Cole Borland. Told him all season to hang in there and that his time was coming. Cole started that big sixth inning, putting the ball in play and when you do that good things happen,” Knittel said. “Hitting’s contagious and we just kept on going.”
Vogelsong-Lewis did finish the complete game shutout, striking out the final two Meigs batters he faced with two Marauders aboard.
The senior Marshall-signee struck out 14 batters over his seven inning outing, allowing just four hits and issuing only one walk.
“All season the kid’s been a competitor, a leader — the heart and soul of this team,” Knittel said, of Vogelsong-Lewis. “Heck of a game by him on the mound, pitched like he has all year. Believed in himself and believed in his team to make the plays behind him.”
A two out double by Meigs’ Andrew Dodson in the sixth — one of his two extra-base hits in the game — was maybe as close as Meigs came to scoring in the game.
Dodson’s double proceeded a run-saving run and catch by Minford freshman center fielder Mason Book on a ball hit to deep right center by Ethan Stewart that would have given Meigs a 1-0 lead had it fallen for a hit.
Instead, it was caught and helped set the stage for the Falcons’ strong sixth.
“That catch saved a run,” Knittel said. “He (Book) had to run a long way to get to that ball in right center. The kids have bought in and I believe the sky’s the limit, just have to stay focused.”
Minford will now face SOC II rival Wheelersburg in a Division III regional semifinal on Thursday, June 3 at V.A. Memorial Stadium.
The Falcons won each of their meetings over the Pirates in the regular season — 6-2 on April 9 at Minford and 3-0 on April 30 at Wheelersburg.
At the conclusion of Minford’s win over Meigs, the second Division III district final between Wheelersburg and Eastern Brown (‘Burg won 8-0) had not yet been played.
In each of their previous two district titles during their current 3-in-a-row streak, the Falcons won their first game at the regional level.
With an 8-day layoff in between districts and regionals, Knittel said the main focus for his team is keeping their eyes on the prize.
“We’re taking tomorrow off, these kids have been grinding this week to prepare for this game,” Knittel said. “The biggest thing is staying focused, we’ll see this next game who we have to prepare for. Hope Wheelersburg represents the SOC well tonight.”
Meigs: 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 4 0
Minford: 0 0 0 0 0 4 X — 4 7 1
W: Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis (Minford), L: Ethan Stewart (Meigs)
Grant Wheeler 1-3, R, RBI
Adam Crank 2-3, R, RBI
Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis 1-3, R, 2B
Aodhan Queen 1-3, 2RBI
Matthew Risner 1-3
Andrew Dodson 2-3, 2 2B
Caleb Burnem 1-3
Tyler Tillis 1-3
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved