BASEBALL: Minster headed back to state to defend DIV title

SPRINGFIELD —  There was no celebratory pile-up in the middle of the diamond after a dribbler down the first base line clinched Minster’s return to state and capped a methodical 9-1 dismantling of Sidney Lehman Catholic in a Division IV regional title game on Friday.

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Wildcat players exchanged a few high fives  and got in the line for handshakes.

The wildest things got was a bucket of ice water getting poured on head coach Mike Wiss along the first base line. On a sunny day with temperatures nearing 90 degrees, that simply seemed like a considerate thing to do.

The defending Divsion IV state champs were all business on Friday and the Wildcats will be bringing their briefcases back to Columbus.

For one game, Minster even altered from its pattern of heart-stopping endings.

The Wildcats scored nine unanswered runs and the pitching combination of Doug Huber and Austin Knapke looked sharper than ever even without any day’s rest in the romp at Carleton Davidson Stadium in Springfield.

The Wildcats will face Tinora, a school from just outside Defiance, on Friday at 4 p.m. at Huntington Park in downtown Columbus in a Division IV state semifinal game.

The defending state champions, returning a rotation of three aces, felt that state was a reasonable expectation in 2012.

“We really expected to be back to where we are right now,” Minster senior first baseman Rob Wente said. “We knew we were going to be top dog and we’d have a big target on our back. It wasn’t easy to get where we are. We faced a lot of good teams to get here and Lehman was one of them.”

“Last year was kind of a shock because of the way we started that season,” Minster starter Doug Huber said. “I think this year, I think we kind of expected it and we did it.”

Minster is eying another title, too.

“I feel certain that with the experience of playing there last year and the looseness of this group, they’ll be ready to play,” Wiss said.

Minster played flawlessly in the field. As its opponents committed eight errors in the two regional games, Minster didn’t make any.

After falling behind 1-0 early, Minster methodically wore down Lehman Catholic by not making any mistakes, moving runners and keeping the bottom half of the Lehman Catholic order off the bases.

Sidney Lehman struck first in the bottom of the first inning. D.J. Hemm doubled, moved to third on fly out and came home on a wild pitch.

Minster starter Doug Huber didn’t allow anything else from the Cavaliers.

Huber went five innings, giving up one run on five hits. He struck out three and walked two after pitching four innings the day before.

“I’ve never gone on no days rest before, but I only threw about 70 pitches on Thursday and about 80 today,” Huber said.

Austin Knapke worked in relief for the second straight night, retiring all six batters he faced.

Minster put the game away with three more in the sixth when the first five Wildcats reached base. Devon Poeppelman’s double drove in two runs, bringing home Austin Knapke and Niemeyer. Poeppelman scored on Ryan Hoying’s single to center.

Last year’s regional championship game between the same two teams made for high drama as Minster coughed up a lead in the top of the seventh and then scored four in the bottom of the inning and won a Chase Paxson walk-off single.

This year’s team, while vastly different in terms of the line-up and position players, returned three top-flight starters in Adam Niemeyer, Huber and Knapke. Even with Niemeyer unable to pitch with inflammation in his elbow, Minster’s duo of Huber and Knapke along with an offense that has integrated a new cast of players has helped Minster get back to Columbus.

“Sometimes I question if these guys know how lucky they are to get to do this twice,” Wiss said. “I think someday they will, when they get to be 40 like me, but when you’re 18 or 16 years old, this is a pretty loose bunch.”