(DHI Media/ Pat Agler)
(DHI Media/ Pat Agler)

BOWLING GREEN — When Van Wert’s head coach Charlie Witten sent Hayden Maples to warm up in the bullpen in the bottom of the sixth inning, he fully understood that the senior might need to make the last out on Thursday. I don’t think even Coach Witten knew just how right he would be.

With runs coming at a premium the Cougars defeated Bowling Green 1-0 off the back of Lawson Blackmore’s complete game performance. Van Wert will face Vermilion in the Regional Finals on Friday at 5 p.m.

Lawson Blackmore struck out the first batter in the seventh, before walking the next batter on four pitches. That walk was the tying run, and with Blackmore over 105 pitches on the day the water wasn’t entirely murky— but it wasn’t clear either. Blackmore bared down to strikeout Bowling Green’s Tucker on a swinging strike— on the same pitch the runner on first took off. Maples, who was catching for the Cougs, popped up and threw down to second. The throw was sharp but high, luckily for Maples his shortstop, Jaxson Amweg, has some height (and some hops). Amweg leaped up and when he came down he placed his leather on the baserunner, getting the final out of the game.

“That is the third straight game we ended with a double play,” said Witten chuckling about the oddity of final play. “That’s obviously in the back of our mind. The last two ended with a double play, let’s get a double play here. That was not the double play we were expecting.”

Though that was just the final play of a game that would have Major League Commissioner Robert Manfred drooling, on account that the game was over in just under 90 minutes. The reason for such a short game? Stellar pitching of course.

In the District Semi-Finals Blackmore struck out twelve and gave up one run, which caused Coach Witten to praise the game as his senior ace’s best performance of the year. Thursday, Blackmore shut out Bowling Green but he and his coach will admit he wasn’t as sharp on account his breaking stuff not being fully there. Though, the result was pretty much the same as it was last week— only slightly better.

“My arm was feeling good,” said Blackmore. “I knew in the bullpen my offspeed was a little bit off— it was just one of those days. It was a great battle all the way through, I grinded it out with my guys the defense played well behind me.”

The key word there was ‘grind,’ because multiple times the Cougs had to grind their way out of an inning. In the first, fourth and fifth inning the Bobcats of Bowling Green had runners in scoring position. Regardless, Van Wert and Blackmore found ways to hang zeros. The effort by Blackmore wasn’t lost upon Coach Witten.

“He was just a bulldog out there for us today,” said Witten of his starting pitcher. Bulldog wasn’t the right animal, I was thinking Cougar (Too cheesy? Probably). “He pitched off his fastball a lot. When a pitch needed to be made, he made it. When a play needed to be made on defense, our kids made them.”

Yes, about that defensive play.

The Cougars have been no strangers to great play defensively this season, as they average under an error a game. That being said there was some fantastic play in the fourth, as Van Wert got not one, but two outs at home.

Bowling Green got runners on first and second, following one out singles. Then there was some deja vu at Carter Park in Bowling Green. The Bobcats singled one more time, but they hit it to the wrong outfielder. The same arm that saved the Cougs season this past Sunday saved it once again as TJ Reynolds made a throw on the money for the second out of the inning. The coast wasn’t clear yet. BG still had runners on first and third. A wild pitch warranted Brown to try a steal of home, but Blackmore fielded the ricochet and tossed the ball home. Maples placed the tag and the inning was over.

“You never practice that play,” said Witten on the ricochet 1-2 put-out for the third out of the inning. “Lawson just simply being an athlete helps keep that run off the board. It was just a tremendous play that you don’t see very often.”

Keaton Brown also made tremendous plays for the Cougars out in right field, as he tracked down a couple of well struck balls.

The lone run for the Cougars came across in the bottom of the fifth.

Reynolds singled to left field. Brown softly hit a grounder that made the shortstop come forward, which proved to be too difficult a play. Brown reached second on an error and Reynolds advanced to third on the play.

With runners on first and third Coach Witten asked Jalen McCracken to lay down the suicide squeeze, but the pitch was tough to get down and Reynolds was tagged out in no-man’s land. McCracken singled two pitches later, which moved Brown to third.

With the line up turned over, Jaxson Amweg came to plate. The senior shortstop rocketed a one hopper towards the shortstop. BG’s infielder couldn’t make the play, and the Cougs scored the lone run of the game.

Van Wert’s typically high potent offense was relegated to three hits on Thursday, but they walked away victorious.

“We found a way to get one across, it doesn’t matter ugly or pretty—it worked,” said Witten.

The Cougars will play for a trip to the State Final Four on Friday.

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Score R H E

BG 000 000 0 - 0 5 2

VW 000 010 x - 1 3 1

(W) Blackmore 7.0-4-0-0-2-6

(L) Craft 6.0-3-1-0-1-1