If you want to beat Olentangy Orange, the top-ranked baseball team in the state for much of the season, slowing down the top of the order is a must.
Each of the first four — leadoff hitter Caden Konczak, two-hole hitter Matt Wolfe, Josh Laisure and cleanup hitter Cole Cahill — earned spots on the recently released All-Ohio baseball teams. Konczak and Laisure were first-teamers.
In Friday’s regional semifinal, Westerville South was unable to do it as the quartet collected a combined six hits, including a perfect 4-for-4 performance from Wolfe in what turned out to be an 8-7 Orange win.
Saturday’s Division I regional final was a different story, though, as New Albany held the Pioneers to a run on five hits en route to a 3-1 win. With it, the Eagles (27-5) punched a ticket to the upcoming state semifinal against Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit Friday night at Canal Park in Akron.
New Albany broke the scoring seal in the bottom of the second, getting a two-out single from Ben Clark to score Oliver Cush, who started the inning with a single of his own before advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt by Ian Hoff.
The Pioneers didn’t take long to respond, evening things at one when Konczak laced an RBI single to center, but that was all they were able to manage off the New Albany pitching staff, which did a nice job limiting the damage in the inning before blanking them the rest of the way.
After Konczak’s single — the third Pioneer hit of the inning — a wild pitch put runners on second and third with one out before Eagle starter Elijah Griffith was able to get Wolfe to pop out in foul territory and Laisure to fly out to right to end the inning.
New Albany took the lead for good in the fifth. Caden Robinson led off the inning with a single, stole second and scored on a single by Andrew Ecleberry. The Eagles added another in the sixth, smoothing out the scoring summary when Hoff doubled to score Cush.
Konczak, Cahill, Austin Knupp, Connor Till and Sells had Orange’s hits, all singles, while Cahill was the tough-luck loser on the mound. The sophomore had a strong showing despite the setback, allowing three runs, two earned, on six hits while striking out eight in six innings of work.
The loss ended what was a stellar season for the Pioneers (27-4), who tied the school record for most wins in a season, won OCC and district titles, finished with the highest team batting average and fielding percentage in school history and had a team GPA of 3.85.
Olentangy’s record-setting season came to a close Sunday afternoon as it fell to Middletown Bishop Fenwick in the Division II state final at Pickerington Central.
It was the best finish in program history for the Braves, who earned district and regional titles on the way to the state runner-up finish.
The Falcons won a tight first set, 25-22, closing it out after Olentangy got to within 22-20. They won the second 25-18 before taking the third 25-16, using big runs to take control of both, to seal the deal.
Sam Kaylor led the Braves with a team-best 12 kills to go with eight digs and three blocks while Gavin Grover added eight kills, eight digs and two blocks.
Will Richards led Bishop Fenwick with a game-high 14 kills, 11 digs and nine aces while setter John Luers, the state Player of the Year, had 26 assists.