Brock Netter, Staff Writer
COLUMBUS — All it takes in baseball is catching the right break at the right time.
Unfortunately, Saturday’s cards didn’t favor Minford (29-2) in a Division III regional championship at Ohio Dominican University as the Falcons’ bid for a back-to-back state semifinal appearance ended with a 4-3 loss to Ridgewood (23-9) in eight innings.
“We played extremely well. These kids came out and played their tails off,” Minford coach Anthony Knittel said. “From the time we arrived to the final pitch, the kids were locked in. But we came up short, and that’s how it goes sometimes. It’s a part of life and I couldn’t be more proud of how they played.”
Ridgewood wasted no time scoring as Gabe Tingle led things off with a triple. He scored on the next at-bat as Koleten Smith ripped an RBI single to right field for a 1-0 lead. Smith then stole third before a fielding error allowed him to cross the plate, extending the lead to 2-0.
“We couldn’t get caught up in the moment,” Knittel said. “It’s the tournament and everything’s always so hot. We had to stay even keel after Ridgewood jumped out early on us, and we battled back.”
Minford responded in the bottom of the second with a sacrifice fly off the bat of Nathan McCormick, scoring Luke Lindamood who doubled to start the inning.
Both pitchers, Ridgewood’s Koleton Smith and Minford’s Elijah Vogelsong spent the next three innings mowing down each other’s lineups. Then Vogelsong came through offensively for his team in the fifth.
Still trailing 2-1, the lefty delivered a huge two-run single to right field that gave Minford its first lead at 3-2.
Vogelsong finished 2-for-3 at the dish with a pair of singles and two RBIs to lead the Falcons. Brayden Davis also collected three hits in the process.
“Elijah competes as hard as any kid I’ve ever seen, and that’s every game with him,” Knittel said. “That was a big spot and he came through for us. Brayden played with a ton of grit and hit the ball great as well.”
With momentum on Minford’s side, the Falcons were determined to nail down the final six outs to punch their ticket back to state.
But Ridgewood caught a break with two outs and a runner on second.
Chase Minet hit a shot to deep left field and, as Minford’s fielder attempted a diving catch at the warning track, the ball popped out of his glove as he landed on the ground.
That sequence allowed the runner to score and tie the game.
“We made one error all game and that was back in the first inning,” Knittel said. “Outside of that, we had a solid defensive performance. That was a great hustle play and attempt to get the ball. It just didn’t work out in our favor.”
Minford had a chance to snatch a walkoff win the in bottom half of the seventh after getting Ridgewood to go down in order.
McCormick led off, hitting a deep fly ball to left field.
Ridgewood’s fielder lost the ball in the sun and it hit off his glove before falling to the turf, putting McCormick at second base.
The next batter laid down a sacrifice bunt, but McCormick was thrown out at third. The sequence wasn’t finished there as the batter was caught in a run down before being thrown out at second.
“That play right there was the worse thing that could have happened at that moment,” Knittel said. “It just meant that today wasn’t our day.”
The game went to extra innings and Ridgewood struck. After Tingle notched a single and successfully stole second, Kaden Smith laced an RBI double to right-center field that ultimately ended Minford’s 2019 season.
Although the season ended two games before the Falcons ultimately hoped for, they finish as Division III sectional and district champions, along with yet another Elite Eight appearance.
“I’m beyond blessed to be the coach of this team with these kids,” Knittel said. “Finishing 29-2 is something to be very proud of, although it’s tough to see that at the moment. These seniors were the face of the program and graduate as the winningest class in school history. They’ve set the bar incredibly high and set such a perfect example for the younger guys to follow.
“This team all year showed incredible fight, heart and effort day in and day out. I’ve always preach three things to these guys: attitude, effort and intensity. I can honestly say these kids brought those three things every night and it showed in the results. I’m proud of them.”