By DAVE HANNEMAN
ELIDA — Race Gorrell said he appreciated his Liberty-Benton teammates having his back Thursday.
When he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning, he was just as glad to see a bunch of them in front of him as well.
“They backed me up all day. Seeing my teammates on the bases like that, I knew I had to get that hit for them,” Gorrell said
Gorrell lashed a two-out, game-winning single through the left side, capping a two-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning that earned Liberty-Benton a 5-4 win over Ottawa-Glandorf on Thursday in the second of two Division III district semifinal baseball games held at Elida’s Ed Sandy Field.
The comeback win earned Liberty-Benton, 21-5 and ranked No. 7 in the final Division III state coaches poll, a rematch with No. 2-ranked Coldwater at noon Saturday in the district championship game. Coldwater, a six-time state champion that run-ruled Fort Recovery 11-1 in Thursday’s first semifinal, beat L-B 7-1 in a nonleague game early in the season.
“They beat us back on April 8th or 9th,” said L-B coach Matt Rader. “But we have all kinds of confidence in our kids right now. We feel we can put anybody out there and get the job done.”
Liberty-Benton’s seventh-inning rally underscored that thought.
Sophomore shortstop Cole Busch, 0 for 2 with a walk to that point in the game, started things with a hard grounder off the glove of O-G third basemasn Jacob Balbaugh. Luke McDonald, a junior outfielder who was also 0-for-2 with a walk, then reached on a perfect slug bunt to short.
Pinch hitter Marcellas Eckford popped up trying to bunt the runners ahead. Jaxson Buddelmeyer, the third of three pitchers for O-G (11-12), then got Kaden Ebert swinging on a nasty curve ball.
Elliott Veenstra grounded a ball deep in the hole between first and second. O-G’s Carter Schimmoeller got to it, but had no play and all runners were safe.
Anthony Wolford worked his way for a walk, forcing in the tying run. Gorrell then smoked a 2-1 fastball to left to win it.
“That was a good high school baseball game. It was back and forth all day,” said O-G coach Nick Miller. “Both teams had ample opportunities to score more runs. They just found a way to score one more than us today.”
Gorrell also got the win on the mound. The sophomore right-hander replaced L-B starter Griffin Snider to start the fifth inning and was immediately tagged for two runs when Trey Nienberg blooped a one-out single, and Ethan Alt and Logan Miller followed with RBI doubles.
Ottawa-Glandorf got to Gorrell for a go-ahead run in the top of the seventh when Miller singled, stole second and third and raced home on Carter Schimmoeller’s single through the left side.
But Liberty-Benton, which answered O-G’s two-run rally in the top of the fifth with a game-tying two-run rally in the bottom of the inning, saved its best comeback for last.
“We responded,” Rader said. “Last year, being as young as we were then, we would have folded. This year, we battled. Our kids never let their heads go down. That’s why we’re in the position we are right now.”
Miller, who saved O-G a number of runs with some outstanding defensive play behind the plate, led O-G offensively as well. The junior catcher singled and scored in the fourth inning, doubled in a run in the fifth and singled and scored the go-ahead run in the seventh.
Alt doubled in a run and Schimmoeller and Wes Davidson had RBI singles for O-G, which had no seniors in the starting lineup and used a pitching staff that included two sophomores and a freshman.
“Our kids got thrown into the fire this year,” Nick Miller said. “It would have been nice if a lot of them could have gotten a year of JV under their belt. We were forced to use those guys early, and they are going to be good players before all is said and done.
“We were seeded ninth out of the 12 teams in this district. But I think we showed we can play with a lot of people. This was a valuable experience. They got their feet wet and, hopefully, next year we make the next step forward.”
Michael Erdeljac, L-B’s designated hitter, had just one hit but drove in the Eagles’ first three runs, one on a third-inning ground out and two to tie it in the fifth inning with a bullet down the third-base line.
Veenstra and Gorrell both had two hits and Wolford an RBI single.
Liberty-Benton featured a rather young team as well. Six of its nine starters Thursday were sophomores and juniors. Rader said the Eagles have been through the fires as well.
“Lately, we’ve been in some really, really close games,” he said.
“Usually we’ve been able to come out on top, so I think that really helps come tournamwnt time.
“Today, it paid dividends.”
Ottawa-Glandorf 000 120 1 — 4 8 3
Liberty-Benton 001 020 2 — 5 9 2
WP — Gorrell. LP — Buddelmeyer. TOP HITTERS: (O-G) Alt 2B, RBI; Miller 2-1B, 2B, RBI; Schimmoeller 1B, RBI; Davidson 1B, RBI. (L-B) Veenstra 2-1B; Wolford 1B, RBI; Gorrell 2-1B, RBI; Erdeljac 1B, 3 RBI.
RECORDS: Ottawa-Glandorf 11-12; Liberty-Benton 21-5.