STATE BASEBALL NOTEBOOK: Minster back at state with new names, Wapak has a 1-2 punch on mound

MINSTER — The Minster baseball team remodeled on the fly.

It’s easy to look at Minster’s return to the state tournament in hindsight as a natural extension of last year’s success, but the Wildcats head back to Columbus with a line-up that looks only vaguely similar to the one that lifted them to their first-ever state baseball championship last June. And it’s a team that dealt with adversity throughout the  2012 season.

Remade and retooled, Minster is looking for another title with a lot of new names on the line-up card.

“The goal was to get back to Huntington and we’re there,” Minster pitcher Doug Huber said.

Minster is two wins from defending its state championship with a team that doesn’t beat itself, relies on its dominating pitching and waits for the opponent to blink first.

A team that returned a trio of pitchers in Adam Niemeyer, Doug Huber and Austin Knapke — a group that did all the pitching at the state tournament in 2011 — teamed with a standout left side of the infield in Niemeyer and shortstop Devon Poeppelman to go along with returning right fielder Ryan Hoying had lofty aspirations heading into the season.

However, when Minster takes the field on Friday at 4 p.m. to play Tinora in a Division IV state semifinal game, it will likely start just four players who logged major innings in last year’s state contests against Newark Catholic and Springfield.

Jay Eilerman took over in center field and took over as the Minste’rs lead-off hitter. Drew Elson drew the assignment in left field. Andrew Knapke plays the bulk of the time at second base. Ethan Wolf took over at catcher. Brandon Hoying and Austin Knapke have shared time at third base while Niemeyer moved to the designated hitter position after an arm injury.

Rob Wente, who was the designated hitter and back-up catcher most of the season, has slid over to play first base during the tournament in Niemeyer’s absence from the field.

“It was just something that came up during practice one day,” Wente said. “Coach said I was going to be playing some first base and it’s something new. I’ve never played there before in my life. We’ve got a lot of athletic kids on this team and a lot of people who can play a lot of different positions. That helps out a lot.”

WAPAK's 1-2 PUNCH:  Every championship boxer needs a good 1-2 combination — that right-left combo that leaves opponents staggering.

As the Wapakoneta Redskins head to the state baseball final four on Thursday, junior Johnny Crawford and sophomore Chace Culver have proven to be that combination.

Through five tournament games, Crawford’s right arm and Culver’s left have held opponents to just three runs.

And while egos and inter-team rivalries can often get in the way of any team’s success, that hasn’t been the case with Culver and Crawford.

“There’s a little bit of rivalry there.  I wouldn’t really call it rivalry.  I would just say competitiveness between us,” Crawford said.  “You always want to be that best guy.  

“Me and him, I don’t know what it is.  We live right down the street from each other.  We’ve always been great friends.  We get along so great.  So that’s not a problem at all.  We help each other.”

When Crawford was asked to asses Culver’s performance on the mound he offered pretty high praise coming from a guy with an 8-0 record and a 0.38 ERA.

“Chace is phenomenal,” he said.  “He pitched better today than I’ve pitched all season.  He really showed what a great pitcher he is and what he’s going to be in the future.”