Cougars scratch out late run to top Wapak, stay unbeaten
Wednesday, April 09, 2014 12:00 AM
By John Parent
Van Wert catcher Mason Carr applies the tag as Wapak’s Chandler Kaech slides in during the first inning on Tuesday night. Despite appearing to beath the throw, Kaech was called out thanks to Carr’s ability to block the plate. The Cougars won the WBL opener, 2-1. (Times Bulletin/Tina Eley)
Times Bulletin Sports Editor
VAN WERT — Things didn’t start especially well for the Van Wert baseball team on a brisk Tuesday evening at Smiley Park, but a late rally and some dominant pitching proved to be enough to overcome the Wapakoneta Redskins by a 2-1 score.
Van Wert remains perfect on the year, moving to 3-0 (1-0 in Western Buckeye League play) while Wapak falls to 3-2 (0-1).
Van Wert senior Nathan Stoller was in trouble in the very first inning. Coming off a complete game shutout in the season-opener last week, Stoller retired the Redskins’ lead-off man on strikes to start the game, but, after Adam Henderson reached via an error, the strike zone became elusive for the Cougars’ right hander.
After falling behind to the number three hitter, designated hitter Chandler Kaech, Stoller wound up walking him, then plunked the clean-up man while ahead in the count. That left the bases loaded with just one out and Stoller fell behind 3-1 on Chase Morgan before he battled back and dropped a breaking ball on the outside corner to get the called third strike.
With two away, it looked like Stoller might wiggle free, but Wapak catcher Nate Kaech jumped on a first-pitch fastball and lined a base hit to right field. That scored Henderson easily from third and the Redskins sent Chandler Kaech home from second as Tyler Williams’ throw to the plate was cut off. First baseman Gavin Gardner turned and fired to the plate and the runner appeared to beat the ball, but catcher Mason Carr was able to block the plate and the runner was called out on a very close play.
Though the Cougars trailed by a run after a half an inning, that play at the plate loomed large as Wapak would not be able to score again.
Meanwhile, the Cougars’ offense wasted little time in getting after Wapak hurler Chase Culver. Justice Tussing hit then first pitch of the bottom of the first for a line-drive single to center field and moved to second on Stoller’s sacrifice bunt. Left fielder Brant Henry was behind 0-2 in the count, but wound up working a walk to bring Williams to the plate.
Culver made short work of the right fielder, fanning him on three fastballs, but center fielder Ryan Stoller picked up the slack with a sharp single to left center that plated Tussing with the tying run.
Culver would settle in immediately thereafter, and Van Wert didn’t get another hit until the sixth inning.
Meanwhile, Nathan Stoller continued to fight himself on the hill in the second, and the Redskins threatened to re-claim the lead. The inning began when Keaton Metz reached on an error and moved to second on a wild pitch. One out later, Stoller lost the number nine hitter to a walk and left fielder Quinn Lotridge served a base hit to right, but the ball was hit so sharply that Metz had to stop at third. With the bags full and only one away, Stoller battled Henderson to a 3-2 count and the Wapak left fielder fouled off a pair of tough pitches to stay alive.
On the eighth pitch of the at bat, and with no where to put the hitter, Stoller dropped a breaking ball at the knees that froze the hitter for a called third strike. and escaped the inning unscathed when Chandler Kaech tapped a ball back to the mound to end the threat.
Like his counterpart, however, Stoller settled down and picked up a pair of strikeouts in each of the next two innings and struck out the side in the sixth.
In the bottom of that inning, the Cougar bats woke up once again.
Culver, who had needed just 64 pitches to work the first five frames, fell behind 2-0 to Henry with one out in the sixth and the junior jumped on a fastball that he lined between short and third for a single. Henry didn’t stay put for long, and got himself into scoring position with a stolen base as Williams worked the count.
Though he had struck out in each of his first two trips against the Wapak right hander, Williams battled to a full count and found a fastball to his liking that he rifled to center field, bringing Henry home with the go-ahead run. It was just the fourth hit the Cougars could muster on the day against Culver, but it was a big one.
“The first at bat he definitely looked bad, and the second at bat he looked a little better,” Van Wert coach Charlie Witten said of Williams’ day at the plate. “In that last at bat, he saw enough pitches that he was able to put a good swing on the ball and it went.”
Though he had thrown 112 pitches already, it was Stoller that took to the hill in the top of the seventh, trying to finish what he had started. Though the first batter reached on an error, the next two hitters were retired on ground balls. With Chandler Kaech at the dish, Stoller delivered and Kaech hit a rocket right back to the mound, and right into the glove of Stoller for the final out.
“He’s a senior and I know what he’s capable of,” Witten said of Stoller’s outing. “I had somebody warming up in the fifth inning, but when I did that, he (Stoller) said ‘Coach, I’m going finishing this game.’ He has the mentality that he wants to finish what he starts.”
Stoller wound up allowing just four hits and one unearned run in the complete-game victory. He struck out 11 batters for the second time in as many starts. He threw 124 pitches on the evening.
“He threw a ton of pitches tonight,” Witten conceded, “but he won’t throw again until next Tuesday.”
Wapak 100 000 0- 1 4 0
Van Wert 100 001 x- 2 4 3
Lotridge rf 4-0-1-0, Henderson lf 4-1-1-0, C. Kaech dh 3-0-0-0, Culver p 2-0-0-0, Morgan cf 3-0-0-0, N. Kaech c 3-0-1-1, Metz ss 3-0-0-0, N. Bruns 3b 3-0-0-0, J. Kaech 2b 2-0-1-0, totals 27-1-4-1
Van Wert (ab-r-h-bi)
Tussing ss 3-1-1-0, N. Stoller p 2-0-0-0, Henry lf 2-1-1-0, T. Williams rf 3-0-1-1, R. Stoller cf 3-0-1-1, Carr c 2-0-0-0, McCracken dh 2-0-0-0, E. Williams 3b 1-0-0-0, x- Kierns ph 1-0-0-0, Gardner 1b 2-0-0-0, totals 21-2-4-2