Wapakoneta Redskins junior Adam Henderson (22), right, celebrates with senior Logan Martin (10) after the Redskins took the lead Thursday in a high school baseball Division II district semifinal at Bluffton University. (Staff photo/Annie Henderson)
BLUFFTON — Wapakoneta senior Chace Culver didn’t take too kindly to Celina intentionally walking the hitter in front of him to load the bases in the bottom of the fifth inning of Thursday’s Division II district semifinal.
“I was kind of insulted, to be honest with you, that they were going to walk to get to me,” Culver said. “I really wanted to get the hit after that.”
So Culver drilled an outside fastball up the alley in right center to clear the bases for a two-out, three-run double that gave Wapakoneta a lead. Culver then finished off a complete game on the mound in Wapakoneta’s 4-3 win over Celina at Bluffton University’s Memorial Field.
The four-year starter has delivered countless times over the years for the Redskins and once again was in the thick of Wapakoneta’s game-winning rally.
“Chace had the huge hit in the fifth inning and I think it broke Celina’s back,” Wapakoneta head coach Jason Brandt said. “He is what makes this team go.”
Wapakoneta now advances to Saturday’s district title game to face Bath, which shut out St. Marys 3-0 in the first game on Thursday. Wapakoneta beat Bath 20-10 in a wacky regular season Western Buckeye League meeting back in late April.
“It will not be a 20-10 game on Saturday,” Brandt said. “2-1, maybe. Bath is as good of a team as there is in the WBL. They have a great stable of pitchers, can run a bit and play defense. They deserve to be in that district final and we’re going to have to play our best to beat them.”
Brandt said he’ll throw Kodi Morgan as his starting pitcher on Saturday with all hands on deck in the bullpen.
Culver’s big two-out hit was set up by Jarrett Koch’s one-out walk and an error that extended the inning.
Celina then intentionally walked third-place hitter Chandler Kaeck to load the bases and put Culver to the plate to set up his game-deciding double.
Wapakoneta won this battle of strong pitching outings from Culver, who gave up three runs on four hits in his seven innings, and Celina’s Kaleb Kuhn, who went the six innings giving up four runs on five hits with four strikeouts and four walks.
Culver closed strong, posting four straight scoreless innings to finish off his three strikeout, three-walk win.
“He has pitched in every single big game this program has had over the last four years — district, regional, state semifinal games,” Brandt said. “That’s what you expect out of a senior. He didn’t have his best stuff by any means early on. We thought about pulling him in the fourth. But he came out and shut them down the rest of the way.”
Culver has been battling for the Redskins while not 100 percent lately, but he gutted out another win on the mound and at the plate again on Thursday.
“I’ve been battling an injury, so that’s held me back a little bit,” Culver said. “Not having my best stuff has kind of been a regular thing for me lately. So I came into this game expecting that, knowing I had to battle and knowing that we had a lot of young guys on our team. But I also had a lot of faith in these guys because we have a lot of athletes and guys who can play.”
The lower-seeded Bulldogs put a scare into Wapakoneta.
Celina touched Culver for three runs in the top of the third to take a 3-1 advantage. Seth Lonsway walked from the nine-hole to start the third. Kuhn doubled into the left field gap to put runners on second and third, setting up a Jimmy Luebke squeeze bunt that brought home Lonsway. Cody Vogel followed with an RBI double to right center to put the Bulldogs up 2-1. Two batters later Jacob Homan hit a grounder to third that was thrown down the first baseline to bring Vogel home for the 3-1 lead.
Wapakoneta squandered a bigger scoring chance in the bottom of the first. After plating a run when Quinn Lotridge singled and scored on Chandler Kaeck’s double to right center, Wapak loaded the bases with one out after a hit by pitch of Culver and a single by Nate Kaeck. But Kuhn got a strikeout and a groundout to shortstop to end the threat with Celina trailing just 1-0.
“That first inning we could’ve really put the hammer down,” Brandt said. “Kuhn did a great job of getting our six and seven hitters. He did a great job and then shut us down for the next three.”
Kuhn then set down the Redskins in order for the next three innings before Wapak’s fifth-inning uprising.
Kuhn led Celina at the plate, going 2 for 3 from the leadoff spot with a run scored and a double.
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