Lake returns to state after downing Coldwater, 6-2


By Nicholas Huenefeld

Special to the Sentinel-Tribune

HAMLER — Connor Eck’s two-run single highlighted a four-run fourth inning, and Ryan Wagner twirled another gem to lead the Lake baseball team past fifth-ranked Coldwater 6-2 in a Division III regional final at Patrick Henry’s Garrold Parratt Field on Friday.

With the win, the fourth-ranked Flyers (27-4) advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 2001. They will face Minford on Saturday at Canal Park in Akron at 10 a.m. The state championship is set for 4 p.m. Sunday.

“I’m really happy for our coaches, and I’m really happy for our players,” Lake coach Casey Witt said. “I’m just so proud to be in the dugout with them and be able to do something that hasn’t been done in over two decades.”

With the game tied at one apiece in the fourth after Wagner’s RBI line drive single to left center, Eck stepped to the plate with two outs and slapped an opposite field single just inside the right field foul line.

Korbin Adkins then added a bloop RBI single to left in the next at bat for a 4-1 lead.

“Coach has been telling us the whole day to think oppo, and he threw me off-speed,” Eck said. “I took it to right and scored two. This win means a lot. We’ve come this far. It’s special, and we’re here for more.”

The decisive inning got rolling with a hit-and-run worked to perfection for the Flyers as Drew Tajblik drew a five-pitch walk to lead off the frame, and Jay Blazevich slapped a 1-2 pitch into the spot where the shortstop should have been to put runners on the corners.

Wagner followed with the game-tying single on the second pitch he saw.

“I think that was a spark,” Witt said of the hit-and-run. “Up to that point, (Coldwater) had done a really good job keeping us off balance. They had made every play. We finally got a chance to kind of play our brand of baseball, which I talk about all the time. It’s just kind of who we’ve been all year.”

Wagner, meanwhile, delivered another masterful performance. After allowing the game’s first run three batters in, the senior retired eight of the next nine he faced to get through three innings.

That set up a key momentum situation in the top of the fourth. With a 1-0 lead, Coldwater put two runners on scoring position, and close calls on a pick off play at third and a potential strike three call went against Lake.

Wagner, however, was unfazed while picking up a strikeout to end the threat and set up his team’s four-run fourth.

“Ryan’s a gamer,” Witt said. “Ryan wants the ball. He took the ball last Saturday in a really big game, so we knew he could do it.

“He’s just fastball (and) curveball, and he moves it in and out and up and down, and he really kind of proves the point that you don’t have to throw a ton of pitches if you can move it around in the zone. He does a great job of that.”

Wagner and the Flyers were the beneficiary of two nice defensive plays in center from Kaiden Cousino, who made a diving catch to end the third with one on, as well as a running catch to his left with one on and one out in the fifth.

“Some people might think we’re crazy for starting a freshman in center field in a regional final, but he’s done a terrific job all year,” Witt said. “He covers a ton of ground, and he just gets better each and every day. We have a lot of confidence in him out there.”

Up 4-1 and heading to the home half of the fifth after Cousino’s second big catch, Lake really took control.

A one-out single from Blazevich preceded a double down the left field line from Wagner. Following an intentional walk to Jack Sobczak, Aiden Young delivered a two-run single to center for a 6-1 lead.

Young’s hit was another example of a big day for Lake’s senior class, which also got nice outings from Wagner, Eck and Caleb Tobias, who had a run and a walk in three plate appearances.

“We try to prep guys for moments like this, but it’s tough to simulate in practice,” Witt said. “They stepped up when we needed them most.

“I’m so proud of (Aiden). He’s worked his tail off for the past 12 months. He’s changed positions. He’s worked hard in the cage and for him to have this moment in the regional final, it’s awesome.”

Wagner pitched around a two-out single in the sixth before things got a bit interesting in the seventh. After getting two quick outs, back-to-back doubles made Witt make a pitching change as he went to Blazevich, who picked up the game-clinching strikeout on a 2-2 pitch.

“This means everything,” Blazevich said. “I had my teammates behind me and just playing with my best friends is everything to me.”

Wagner improved to 9-3 while pushing his consecutive starts streak with a win to five.

“The curve ball worked the whole game,” Wagner said. “They weren’t swinging at it and being able to use a pitch that they’re not really going after is amazing because you don’t really have to worry about it when you throw it.”

Coldwater’s Cale Wenning, who allowed just one baserunner through the game’s first three innings, picked up the loss on the mound for the seven-time state champions, who finished the season 26-6.

Offensively, Blazevich finished 3-for-4 with a pair of runs to lead Lake. It was his second three-hit performance of the season.

Wagner stayed hot, finishing 2-for-3 with two runs and an RBI in what was his fourth multi-hit effort over the past five games and his eighth of the season.

The trio of Young, Eck and Adkins combined to hit 3-for-9 with five RBIs.

Friday’s win gave the Flyers a 2-0 record all-time against Coldwater in postseason play. The 1978 team took down the Cavaliers – also by a 6-2 score – in a regional semifinal. That Coldwater team featured a junior by the name of Greg Wilker, who coached the 2001 Lake team to the state semifinals.

Lake has now won six straight and tied the program’s single-season wins record. They improved to 3-2 all-time in regional final appearances, joining the 2001 and 1956 teams as state semifinalists.

The 1935 team also made the then eight-team state tournament before bowing out in the quarterfinals.

“As a kid who graduated from and played at Lake, the baseball tradition in our school and in our community has always meant a ton to me, and I don’t think our kids fully understand how they cemented themselves today,” Witt said. “I’m certain that in a few years they will look back and realize how awesome of a feat this is in a special program.”

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