Juniors overcome first-round loss to earn trip back to state
WAHOO — Wayne American Legion Post 43 Juniors coach Adam Hoffman and his wife, Ashley, expect to be a first-time parents by the end of the week.
Hoffman's team made a special delivery Tuesday evening, avenging an opening-round loss to Lincoln Lutheran with back-to-back 4-1 and 5-1 wins to defend their Class B Area 5 title and earn a trip to this weekend’s Class B State Tournament in Columbus.
Wayne dropped a 4-2 decision to Lincoln Lutheran in a lackluster effort Saturday, but rattled off wins over Wahoo (7-5) and Columbus Lakeview (7-3) to earn a rematch with the fifth-seeded Lincoln Lutheran team, then turned to their pitching to carry them back to state after going 0-2 in last year’s state tournament.
After getting ambushed by first-game winner Trevor DeBoer with a cooler of water, the soon-to-be dad was beaming with pride after the performance his team put out in winning two games in 90-degree heat at Sam Crawford Field.
“This was just unreal. The kids just never quit,” he said, wiping water and sweat off his face. “You could very easily come in after losing that first game and put your heads down, and I’m proud of how these kids stayed together and played hard and pitched well and played defense and hit. They stayed together and stayed so positive after losing a game, and that’s just the way they’ve been. They don’t quit and don’t give up.”
Wayne got a much-needed complete-game performance from DeBoer in Tuesday’s first game to force the winner-take-all matchup. He went the distance, taking a no-hitter into the sixth and finishing with a two-hit, five-strikeout effort.
“That’s exactly what we needed from him,” Hoffman said. “We did have five guys available for tonight, but you just never know and he just came out and set the tone for us.”
DeBoer got in trouble just once in the game. Lincoln Lutheran had two runners in scoring position with one out in the fourth, but DeBoer got out of the jam when Josh Lutt made a leaping grab of a line drive and stepped on second for the inning-ending double play.
Wayne scored single runs in the first and third innings to take the lead. Hagan Miller scored both times, reaching after being hit by a pitch in both at bats. Jacob Kneifl brought him home with a fielder’s choice in the first, and he came in on a Reid Korth sacrifice fly in the third to make it 2-0.
Wayne got another run in the fifth when Kneifl singled and later scored on a wild pitch, and Lutt walked and scored on a Korth RBI single to left in the sixth.
The second game was combination of solid hitting, amazing defense and a quality pitching performance by Victor Kniesche, who overcame some early-game jitters and got out of a first-inning bases-loaded jam unscathed.
“He threw a lot of pitches that first inning, but he came back and threw strikes and let the defense do the work,” Hoffman said. “It was just awesome for him to step up like that.”
His defense also came to play in the finale. Miller made a trio of line-drive robberies, including one in the fifth where he caught the ball and threw a bullet across the field to DeBoer to catch the runner at first in a double play that effectively ended any Lincoln Lutheran hopes of a comeback.
Wayne scored runs in the first and fourth thanks to the hot bat of Korth, who singled home Lutt in the first and then led off the fourth with a triple before scoring on a Kneifl single to right. He added a two-out double in the fifth that led to a run, with pinch-runner Tyrus Eischeid scoring on a single by Kneifl.
“I knew that I needed to take some daddy hacks tonight, and I was getting good pitches and knew I needed to take advantage of it,” Korth said after the game.
The Juniors take a 19-4 record into this weekend’s Class B American Legion Juniors State tournament at Pawnee Park in Columbus, where they will face Area 2 champion Ashland in the opening round Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m.
Hoffman feels good about where his team is at heading into the tournament.
“Getting back there the second year in a row, the kids will know what to expect now and we’ll head to Columbus and hopefully put on a show,” he said. “We had one job to do here and we took care of business, and I’m excited to see these guys get back here. Nothing comes easy and it was just an awesome effort.”