By Ryan Hines
Only four of the top 10 teams in the state, according to the last Associated Press state poll, are left in the Division III baseball tournament.
On Friday at Findlay High School, two of those ranked teams will square off as Coldwater (25-3) takes on Bucyrus (22-3) in Division III regional semifinal action starting at 5 p.m. The winner of Friday's contest will play on Saturday at 1 p.m. against the winner of the Achbold (24-4) and Gahanna Columbus Academy (17-7) contest played at 2 p.m., also on Friday at Findlay.
Bucyrus spent nearly the whole season as the top-ranked team in Division III when a non-league loss late in the year allowed Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy to win the poll championship. Bucyrus finished the year ranked second in the state, with nine first-place votes.
Coldwater, making its first regional appearance since 2000, spent the entire season ranked in the top 10 in the state and finished the year in the fifth position with one first-place vote.
There's always debate on whether the state polls mean anything as far as ranking teams are concerned, but one thing is for sure -- two very good teams will be matched up on Friday. Bucyrus, which is making its fourth regional berth all-time (1974, 1987, 1992, 2004), with no state tournament appearances, enters the semifinal contest with a thunderous offense and a strong pitching staff.
The Redmen are a dangerous offensive team that's hitting .386 on the year while averaging 10.2 runs per game. Bucyrus is also a multi-dimensional offensive team that can hurt opponents in numerous ways with 25 home runs and 64 stolen bases.
Matt Roberts is a perfect example of the multi-dimensional offense that the Redmen have put together. Roberts is leading the team with a .571 batting average while showing plenty of power with 10 home runs (school record) and speed (33 steals). Roberts' average, steals and RBI (36) all lead the District 9 coverage area.
Roberts isn't the only offensive producer for the Redmen, though, as three other Bucyrus players are hitting over .400.
Bryce Bahm (senior shortstop) is hitting .439 with six home runs and 35 RBI, Bret Hunt is batting .435, Casey Kirchberg (senior catcher) is hitting .412. Senior second baseman Matt Wyse has also put together a strong offensive year with six home runs and 23 RBI while Neil Rittenhour is batting .365 on the year.
"The offensive numbers that they put up are scary," admitted Coldwater head coach Brian Harlamert, who is looking to guide the Cavaliers to their 17th state tournament. "They're a free-swinging team that likes to hit the ball and then run when they're on the bases."
Rittenhour is also the ace of the staff for the Redmen as he has posted a 1.87 ERA. Wyse (1.35 ERA) and Matt Atwood (lefthander) are also very capable pitchers according to head coach Chris Smith.
"I think that our number two and three pitchers are pretty good too," said Smith about his pitching staff. "Both have thrown a lot of innings for us this year and both do a nice job of mixing their pitchers up."
Whether it's Rittenhour, Wyse or Atwood, the Redmen will have their hands full when the Midwest Athletic Conference champions take the field. Coldwater is hitting .370 as a team with a balanced offensive lineup that features six players -- Dusty Ahrens (.482), Ryan Gerlach (.471), Trent Gerlach (.425), Chad Geier (.422) and Tyler Schwieterman (.395) -- batting .395 or better.
As good as the Coldwater offense has been, on most occasions, the Cavaliers don't need to score many runs when ace Steve Wenning is on the hill. Wenning has allowed just 10 earned runs all season long for a sparkling 0.93 ERA while compiling an unblemished 13-0 record with two saves.
"We feel that as long as we have Steve on the mound that we have a chance against anyone," said Harlamert. "As long as Steve is able to do his thing on the mound like he has all season for us, we have a defense that has played well behind him all season long and we like our chances."