The Cougars celebrating their regional win last Friday. This Saturday they will face Chaminade-Julienne in the State-Semis. (DHI Media/ Pat Agler)
The Cougars celebrating their regional win last Friday. This Saturday they will face Chaminade-Julienne in the State-Semis. (DHI Media/ Pat Agler)
VAN WERT — The town is buzzing because the Cougars clinched the first State Semi-final berth in program history. Van Wert will face the defending champion Chaminade-Julienne Eagles at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Canal Park. As most State Semi-final games are, this one will be a blockbuster.

The Eagles finished #1 in the final coaches’ poll, which is fair since the defending state champions have brought back most of their starters. CJ beat Wapak in the state championship last spring 3-1, the Eagles were also the runners-up in 2017 as they lost to Tallmadge.

Both teams enter the state tournament with two losses on the season. Which is interesting because both teams haven’t lost in nearly two months— their last losses coming on the same day, April 8th. Van Wert lost to Fairview 3-1, which was their second loss in less than five days (the other being to Defiance). CJ lost to Hamilton Badin (hey, that’s where I went to school and played ball) 5-4 on the same evening.

Going up against the defending champions and the top ranked team in the state might seem like a tall task, but it could actually benefit the Cougars by playing them in the state semis. By the nature of the baseball tournament, every team typically throws their ace in the semi-finals. Which would mean that Van Wert gets to throw their best against the state’s best.

Lawson Blackmore will get the nod on the hill this Saturday. How has he done this postseason? The senior is 3-0 since the postseason began, chucking 19 2/3 innings and only allowing three earned runs. In the same time he has struck out 23 batters, while only allowing six walks and nine hits. In his last two outings alone he threw complete games, beating Lexington and Bowling Green.

“Anytime we have Lawson on the mound we have a really good chance to win,” said head coach Charlie Witten. “I could say the same about Owen [Treece] and Hayden [Maples] too. But yeah, I like Lawson matched up against [CJ]. Our number one against their number one, I’ll take my chances in that match up.”

I’m sure Mike Barnhorst, CJ’s head coach, would say the same as he will presumably be throwing Nick Wissman.

Wissman has started 10 games this spring. His record? 10-0. The right-hander flashes a 0.93 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 60 innings. The senior thrower also has not only experience in high-pressure games but also against WBL teams.

Wissman threw a complete game against Wapak in the State Championship last spring, striking out nine.

Coach Witten, who got a look at the Eagles in their regional semi-final game on Saturday in Mason compares Wissman to Tucker Craft from Bowling Green who the Cougars beat 1-0 last Thursday.

“We got a chance,” said Witten on the prospect of facing Wissman. “If we take the right approach, we will get some runs across.”

Just looking from a statistical standpoint, the make up of these two teams is eerily similar.

The Cougars pitching staff has given up 31 earned runs in 191 innings this year. That is an ERA of 1.13. CJ’s ERA is 1.15.

From a hitting stand point, both teams get on base at a fairly similar clip. Van Wert’s on-base percentage is .436, while CJ’s is .431. Other than that, the Cougs appear to be the superior team at the plate.

The WBL co-champs have a batting average of .341, while the GCL (Greater Catholic League) north champs have hit .309 this season. The Cougars have scored 227 runs to the Eagles 190.

One area of concern is the reigning state champs pension for swiping bags. In just 27 games they have stolen 117 bases. Lead off hitter Andrew Simones alone has stolen 23, while AJ Soloman has stolen 28.

Though that shouldn’t be too much of a threat considering Blackmore tends to show more hitters a place to sit, than a place on the base-paths.

There is no doubt that it will be a challenge for the Cougars, but you don’t get to the state semis by fluke. Van Wert is the real deal, and their confidence as never been as high.

“We have beaten some good teams,” said Witten on his squad. “Success just keeps breeding confidence, and we keep winning. So we are ready to go.”

The winner of this game will go on to face the winner of Gilmour Academy and St. Clairsville.