Brock Netter, Staff Writer
Southern Ohio Sports Authority is presented by OhioHealth.
CHILLICOTHE — Same stage. Same fight. Same result.
For the fourth consecutive season, Minford’s baseball program is headed to the Sweet 16 and the Falcons are doing so after a valiant rally against Zane Trace.
After digging a 3-1 hole, Minford (18-8) dug out to beat the Pioneers by a 5-3 final at VA Memorial Stadium on Friday, taking home yet another Division III district championship trophy south.
“I’m just so proud of these guys,” Minford coach Anthony Knittel said. “They’ve stepped up to the challenge. We had goals coming into this season and this was one of them.”
After the loss of veterans Elijah Vogelsong and Matthew Risner last season to graduation, there may not have been a lot of people who thought the Falcons could repeat yet again.
That belief, however, wasn’t shared for a minute inside the Falcons’ dugout.
“You’re never going to replace Elijah or Matthew, or their leadership,” Knittel said. “But we knew we had to get better and move on. We came in today against a good opponent and everybody may have counted us out, and that’s OK. But we had to keep believing and we kept preaching that to the kids. We just had to keep fighting. That’s what we did today.”
Tale of the tape
Zane Trace (24-4) started the night’s scoring with a sacrifice fly off the bat of Trey Edler in the first inning, which scored Landen Jarrell, who had singled earlier in the inning.
The Pioneers added to their lead in the third with an RBI single from Austen Ison, making it 2-0.
Minford struck back in the fourth when Branson Alley laid down a suicide squeeze bunt to score Mason Book, cutting the lead to 2-1.
ZT immediately reclaimed its two-run lead in the bottom half of the inning when Brooks Hodson galloped home on a passed ball for a 3-1 tally.
That’s when reliever Levi Coriell entered the contest to replace starter Noah Martin.
Coriell proceeded to keep Zane Trace’s bats at bay throughout the rest of the evening, keeping his teammates within striking distance.
“Levi has battled injuries all year and I’m just so proud of him,” Knittel said. “He’s a mentally tough kid. He could’ve given up and said, ‘Forget it.’ But he kept at it. He knew there’d be a time where we’d need him. That moment happened today. He did what he had to do. He pounded the strike zone and kept us in it. I could see the look in his eyes and knew we were going to go win a district championship.”
After Minford’s Mason Book led off the top of the sixth with a triple, he scored on an RBI double off Martin’s bat to trim the deficit to 3-2. The Falcons then forced a 3-3 tie when Martin scored on a wild pitch.
The Falcons then scored the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh, completing the comeback, when Carson Cronin crossed home plate on a throwing error. Then, they bought insurance when a balk was called, scoring Adam Crank for a 5-3 score — the eventual final.
Coriell picked up the win in relief, tossing three innings of one-hit baseball while striking out three. Adam Crank earned the save, slamming the door shut in the bottom of the seventh and taking just seven pitches to do so.
At the dish, the Falcons were led by Cronin, who was 3-for-3 with a run while JD Matiz went 2-for-4 in the leadoff slot. Book also helped out, going 2-for-3 with a triple and two runs scored, and Martin finished 1-for-3 with a double, a run and an RBI.
For Zane Trace, Trey Edler suffered the loss in six innings of work. He allowed four runs — three earned — on 10 hits and whiffed a pair of Falcons. Jarrell, Ison and Ben Nichols were responsible for the Pioneers’ three base hits.
What’s on tap
While Zane Trace ends its season, Minford advances to play Fairland — a 3-0 win over Meigs on Friday — in a Division III regional semifinal. That matchup will take place at noon, Thursday at VA Memorial Stadium.
“We just have to keep coming out and fighting,” Knittel said. “We’re pretty familiar with [Fairland]. They’re well-coached, they play hard and they’ve got some great arms. It’s going to be a challenge. But these kids love challenges. They’re going to come out play hard. It’ll be a good ballgame.”