Brock Netter, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — For the second straight year, the Minford Falcons are one of Division III’s last eight teams standing.
After finding themselves in a 1-0 hole entering the top of the fifth inning in a Division III regional semifinal at VA Memorial Stadium, the Falcons (29-1) tied the game with a bases loaded walk, took a lead with a two-out, two-run single and never looked back in a 7-2 win over Westfall.
“There’s one word we go by and that’s execution,” Minford coach Anthony Knittel said. “These guys came out and executed today. We finally figured something out late in the game and we always say great teams win late. These kids don’t quite fighting. We started executing and everything else took care of itself.”
The win, like many this season, came on the heels of a brilliant pitching performance from senior Ethan Lauder.
The right-hander threw all seven innings, allowing just six hits and striking out four.
“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.”
In the top of the first, after Westfall’s Titan Williams drew a leadoff walk, the speedy centerfielder stole second. With two outs, Sam Frazier gave the Mustangs (23-5) a 1-0 lead with an RBI single that trickled into shallow left field.
After Mustangs hurler Lucas Blackburn cruised through the first four innings, he ran into trouble in the fifth.
“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.”
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 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 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.”