By Ryan Hines
It appears to be a race all the way to the finish this season for the Western Buckeye League baseball title.
Celina (20-4, 6-1 WBL) made things a little more interesting on Tuesday afternoon as the Bulldogs defeated archrival St. Marys, 2-1, in a game that ended prematurely due to persistent rain and a soggy field.
The rain abruptly ended a well-played game by both teams while also dealing the Roughriders a serious blow in their attempt at a WBL title.
St. Marys (15-4, 5-1 WBL) had been undefeated in league play, but now falls a game behind WBL-leading Defiance along with Celina and Wapakoneta which have each suffered one league loss.
"Realistically, we would like to go out and finish the game, but the diamond isn't in very good shape after all the rain and the kids are disappointed, but with the way the field was, nobody wants to see any of the kids get injured in a situation like that," said St. Marys head coach Fred Hullinger. "You don't like to lose like this, but you certainly don't want to go out there and screw anybody up because our season is still on the line. We're in the league race and we're still in tournament, so it was probably the wise decision. The right decision was made." "It's an official ballgame but I told Fred that I hate it to end like that, but they have a lot to play for with the tournament and it was just too slippery on the field to play," said Celina head coach Bruce Boley. "The umpires are the ones that have the final say on whether to play in a situation like this or not and they just wanted to protect all the players, because you don't want to see anyone get hurt. The safety of the kids always comes first."
Celina's title hopes remain alive after a two-run fourth inning erasing a St. Marys one-run lead.
The Roughriders struck first in the top half of the fourth inning when designated hitter Todd Graves connected for a two-out single. A wild pitch and an infield single by Deron Steinke pushed Graves to third base before Andy Langsdon ripped an RBI single for a 1-0 Roughriders lead.
Celina responded quickly in its half of the fourth inning.
Sean Boley ignited the Celina rally by pulling a double down the left-field line. Brian Geise then jumped on the first pitch he saw and belted an RBI double to left-centerfield scoring Boley to tie the game at 1-1.
Eric Braun, who has been hampered by a lower-body injury, moved Geise to third base by hustling all the way down the first-base line and and diving safely for an infield single.
Kyle Anderson then delivered the game-winning hit with a sharp liner to rightfield scoring Geise and giving Celina a 2-1 advantage.
St. Marys appeared primed to tie the score in the fifth inning when lead-off man Matt Helmstetter ripped a one-out double.
However, Sean Boley had other ideas about a possible St. Marys rally.
Helmstetter danced a little too far off of second base and Sean Boley caught him by firing to brother Scott Boley who tagged Helmstetter out, ending the St. Marys threat.
That was the last scoring threat for St. Marys before the rain put an end to the contest just five Roughrider outs shy of a complete game.
Brian Gagle picked up the complete-game win with 5 1/3 innings of work allowing one run on four hits with seven strikeouts.
"We dodged a few bullets along the way where they (St. Marys) had runners in scoring position in a couple different innings, but Brian threw the ball well and got out of a few jams," said Boley.
The Roughriders schedule this week isn't about to get any easier as Defiance awaits on Thursday and Kenton on Friday before facing Bath to wrapup their league slate, while still trying to juggle their pitching staff for tournament games.
"As long as we stay away from the rain, we have our pitching pretty much set," said Hullinger. "Nick (Pfeffenberger) will go against Defiance on Thursday, Andy (Langsdon) will throw against Kenton and then Nick should be ready to go again on Monday in our tournament game against Wapak."
Celina will be big St. Marys fans on Thursday hoping for a Defiance loss while Elida and Wapakoneta remain on the schedule for the Bulldogs. In addition to facing St. Marys, Defiance still has Ottawa-Glandorf, Wapakoneta and Bath still on the docket.
Wapakoneta appears to have the toughest road to travel among the contenders for a possible WBL title with Celina, Defiance, Elida and Ottawa-Glandorf left to play.
"This is a huge win for us because it keeps us in the league race," said Boley. "Once we got beat in the tournament, our kids could have gone in one of two directions and I'm just glad that they chose the direction they did because they still have a lot to play for."