The St. Marys baseball team dusted itself off and delivered one of the program’s biggest regular-season victories in years.
The Roughriders kept its Western Buckeye League title hopes alive with a 7-3 win over defending state champ Defiance on Friday night at K.C. Geiger Park.
Less than 24 hours after the Riders let a three-run lead slip away in the top of the seventh to Shawnee in a deflating loss, St. Marys knocked off the area’s baseball factory, which has won the last eight league crowns.
“It went from a sleepless night to being really, really proud of our guys,” St. Marys head coach Jeff Dieringer said. “It’s big, especially with what happened the night before giving up a lead in a league game.”
No. 3 Defiance, which had been unbeatable in WBL play for eight full seasons, went down again to an Auglaize County squad. Defiance had won 72 straight Western Buckeye League contests before Wapakoneta knocked the Bulldogs off in a rain-shortened contest earlier this week.
“Defiance is who we try to beat every single day in practice, “Dieringer said. “I feel like if we can compete with them, we can really compete with anybody.”
St. Marys righthander Zack Wilker held down Defiance in a complete game victory on the hill, allowing just six hits and striking out two. He kept the ball down at the knees all night and banished any thoughts of another seventh-inning meltdown. While two reached, his brother Nathan made a highlight reel catch by stretching out and snagging a looping liner destined for center field. Wilker got a pop up to first baseman Mason Gross for the clinching out, Wilker pumping his fists at midfield.
“Zack was stellar,” Dieringer said. “I don’t know that he’s the best mechanical pitcher we have, but he just knows how to throw strikes.”
Wilker set down Defiance in order in both the second and fourth innings.
St. Marys’ tough stretch of league games continues early next week after Saturday’s 10 a.m. game at Sidney. The Riders host Bath on Monday and then go to Wapakoneta on Tuesday for another league showdown against the state-ranked Redskins. Ottawa-Glandorf clinched a share of the WBL title with a win over Wapakoneta on Friday night in eight innings. The Titans would win the outright league crown with a win over Elida on Tuesday.
The win was also big for St. Marys’ tournament standing. The draws will be held on Sunday afternoon. This year, first round games will be played at home sites, so Dieringer is hoping his team’s 14-4 resume that now includes a win over Defiance will grab St. Marys an opening game at K.C. Geiger Park.
St. Marys’ offense again delivered, this time pestering Defiance starter Derek Turner by getting on base, bunting runners over and pecking away one and two runs at a time throughout the game.
“Derek had a nice mix of pitches towards the end of the game,” Dieringer said. “I think if he would’ve had that earlier, it would’ve been tougher. Conditions were cold and he struggled with control a bit. We just caught him on a good day.”
The Riders’ first four runs scored with two outs and kept runners in scoring position by going four for four on attempted sac bunts.
“Once we got some runs early, I guess my philosophy is to keep putting a number on the board, especially with a guy like Zack pitching,” Dieringer said. “Giving him a lead, he’s more comfortable. The guys executed really well. I’m proud of them.”
St. Marys struck early. Isaac Fitzgerald pelted a double that short-hopped the left field wall to allow the swift Nathan Wilker, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, to score all the way from first.
The Roughriders added three in the second. Zack Wilker reached via an infield single. Austin Quellhorst moved him over to second with a sac bunt. After Collin Burke flew out to center, Jared Knous walked to set up Tristan Becker’s RBIn single to right field. Gross followed with yet another big two-out run-scoring hit with a single chopped up the middle past the second baseman for a 4-0 lead.
After Defiance scored three times in the top of the third with the help of a lead-off walk and error, the game stayed 4-3 in favor of St. Marys until the bottom of the fourth. Burke beat out an infield single, Knous bunted him over, Becker walked and Gross delivered a single for another run and a 5-3 lead.
St. Marys went up 6-3 in the bottom of the fifth when Zack Wilker drew a lead-off walk, went to second on Quellhorst’s sac bunt and came home on a Jared Knous two-out RBI single to right field.
Zack Wilker delivered a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh that scored Nathan Wilker, who was hit by a pitch, followed by a Fitzgerald single and a Nathan Vogel bunt single that loaded the bases.