Van Wert poses with their Regional medals and trophy following their dismantling of Vermilion. (DHI Media/ Pat Agler)
Van Wert poses with their Regional medals and trophy following their dismantling of Vermilion. (DHI Media/ Pat Agler)
BOWLING GREEN — With two outs and the count at 1-2 in the seventh inning, Owen Treece got the sign from his catcher Hayden Maples. Treece came set, kicked and fired. The hitter? Frozen. Strike three. Treece faced the dugout with both arms at his side yelled out a “lets go!” Treece’s reward for throwing a complete game win for the Cougs? Being at the bottom of the dog-pile.

For the first time in Van Wert baseball history, they will be headed for the State Semis. The Cougs beat the Vermilion Sailors 13-2, to clinch the Regional Title. They will play the winner of the Mason regional (which starts tomorrow), at Canal Park next Saturday at 1 p.m. in Akron.

Van Wert head coach Charlie Witten said it’s nearly impossible to describe what it means for his team to punch their ticket to the State Semis. “The pride I have of these kids is just tremendous,” said Witten. “This is the first time Van Wert baseball is going to the state tournament, so we are going to soak that up and enjoy it.”

A day after scoring just one run, the Cougars offense exploded in the last two innings of Friday’s matchup. Van Wert held a small 3-2 lead heading into the sixth. Then every-time you looked up at the scoreboard the Cougars were adding on runs.

At that center of the Cougs offense on Friday was the nine-hole hitter, Jalen McCracken. The center fielder went 4-4 with four RBIs and two runs scored in the Regional Final game.

“I felt awesome at the plate today,” said McCracken. “He was throwing a good curveball, so I knew I needed to sit back. When he threw the fastball I jumped on it right away.”

McCracken came up with runners on second and third and two outs in the fourth inning. The Cougs already had one run, but they were obviously looking for more— McCracken delivered. The right handed batter singled to center to score both Parker Conrad and TJ Reynolds.

In the seventh, Van Wert already had a commanding lead at 6-2, but McCracken blew the hinges off the door. Another two run single by the senior gave the Cougars all the momentum they needed to put a seven spot on the board. In essence, that’s what the nine-hole does. He is ‘the anchor’ or the ‘second lead-off man’. Most of the time the bottom of the order is just called upon to set the table up for the top half. On Friday, McCracken forgot all that and played ball like a clean up hitter.

“I can hear the other dugout saying ‘hey, nine-hole, come in’ or ‘don’t play him too deep’. I like to prove them wrong, I think that’s fun,” said McCracken on other teams slighting him.

This is no surprise for Coach Witten, as he has mentioned on more than one occasion that the Van Wert can swing the sticks up and down the order.

“The whole line up has been great and consistent all year long,” said the Cougars’ coach. “It doesn’t matter who is up. I look at who is up first every inning and think we have a good chance to score.”

Jake Lauztenheiser had a huge two-run single in the sixth inning, as he got his nine-iron out and chipped one over the third baseman’s head.

Jaxson Amweg had a two-run double in the seventh, and Nate Temple had a bases clearing three run two-bagger in the same frame.

All those runs would mean nothing without Treece’s phenomenal performance on the bump. The sophomore right hander allowed four hits, two runs and seven strikeouts.

“I was very confident, especially with this team behind me,” said Treece. “It’s easy to throw strikes with this defense.” Though he is just a sophomore he didn’t let the pressure of the game get to him. As evidence by his performance, and the fact the right hander put down four of the eight final batters on strikes.

“I was pumped, I was screaming, I was so excited to hug my teammates and everything,”said Treece on the elation of getting the final out and knowing you’re going to state.

With the win the Cougars punch their ticket to the final four. They will play the winner of the Mason Regional which starts on Saturday. Reigning State-Champs Chaminade Julienne is playing that regional as is Granville, Franklin and Hamilton Ross.

The Athens Regional concluded today as St. Clairsville punched their ticket. In the Hudson Regional either Benedictine or Gates Mills Gilmour Academy will punch their ticket tomorrow.

***

Van Wert 13 (ab-r-h-rbi-bb)

Jaxson Amweg 5-1-1-2-0, Jake Lautzenheiser 4-1-2-2-1, Hayden Maples 3-1-1-1-2, Nate Temple 5-0-1-3-0, Lawson Blackmore 4-1-1-0-1, Parker Conrad 3-1-1-1-1, Owen Treece 0-1-0-0-1, TJ Reynolds 3-3-1-0-1, Mason McHugh 1-0-0-0-0, Keaton Brown 3-2-1-0-1, Jalen McCracken 4-2-4-4-0

2B: Amweg, Temple. SB: Blackmore, Lautzenhieser, Maples, McCracken

Vermillion 2 (ab-r-h-rbi-bb)

Wells 3-0-1-0-0, Herron 1-0-0-0-0, Clark 3-1-0-0-0, Montgomery 3-1-2-0-0, Krausher 2-0-0-0-1, Miller 2-0-0-1-0, Cacciatore 3-0-1-1-0, Young 1-0-0-0-0, Matheson 1-0-0-0-0, Habermill 1-0-0-0-0, Benke 2-0-0-0-0

2B: Montgomer. E: Clark, Benko

Pitching (ip-h-r-er-k-bb)

(W) Treece 7.0-4-2-2-7-1

(L) Motgomery 4.1-6-3-3-3-3

Krausher 2.0-6-10-6-1-4

Miller 0.2-1-0-0-0-1

SCORE R H E

VW 000 303 7 -13 13 1

Ver. 000 300 0 - 2 4 2