By Gary R. Rasberry
ELIDA -- The first seven innings of Saturday's Division III district final baseball game between Coldwater and Patrick Henry resembled one of those classic 15-round prize fights of the golden age of boxing.
Both teams traded jabs and punches for the regulation amount of innings with the teams tied 3-all.
Then the eighth inning -- more like the 15th round -- came around.
That's when Coldwater began to absorb the body blows of the Patriots.
The bad part was, there was no bell to save the Cavaliers. Patrick Henry scored four times in the top of the eighth -- without benefit of a base hit -- to avenge last year's loss with a 7-3 win over Coldwater at Ed Sandy Field.
The Patriots (25-3) now play Marion Pleasant on Friday at Elida in the regional semifinals. Coldwater ends its season at 21-6, stunned by the late onslaught.
"Those runs are hard to come by," said Coldwater coach Brian Harlamert. "You don't see us giving up four in the eighth. That isn't us, it's a matter of a few breaks."
"It was like a boxing match, all game long," said Patriots coach Greg Inselmann. "Different times the teams had momentum. Outstanding defensive plays all game long. That's what you would expect against Coldwater. Neither team refused to break. We were just able to carry out some good bat discipline, take advantage of a little wildness (Coldwater pitchers walked nine and hit three batters). We found ways to score runs."
The Cavaliers pulled out all the stops to try and keep the Patriots from getting control of the game. Harlamert used three pitchers in the game for 2 2/3 innings each.
Unfortunately, there was no one to spell Chad Geier in the top of the eighth. Geier came in the sixth to replace Gaston Pleiman -- who relieved starter Steve Borger -- and gave up the tying run on a sacrifice fly by Ben Botjer, scoring Justin Sonnenberg.
"We came in with that philosophy," said Harlamert about the relief usage. "Nothing against Steve or Gaston. If we could get three (innings) out of Steve without giving any up, then go with Gaston (for) something different and then go to Chad at the end. It almost worked to perfection."
Coldwater could not break the tie in the bottom of the sixth or seventh, setting up the second straight extra-inning nailbitter between the teams after last year's 4-3 win thanks to a bases-loaded walk.
Geier got the first out of the eighth by getting AJay Meyer to fly to center. Sonnenberg was than hit on Geier's first offering, bringing up Mark Krauss. Krauss, who's double in the sixth helped set up the tying run, was walked intentionally for the second time on the day -- and fourth time overall -- to bring up Botjer, who was 0-for-2 officially on the day. Botjer ran the count to 3-2 with several foul-offs before getting one outside enough to call ball four to load the bases for Mike Inselmann.
With the infield drawn in to throw to home for the force, Mike Inselmann, son of the coach, grounded lightly to Matt Howell at short. Howell had trouble getting the handle and the throw home was late, giving Inselmann the fielder's choice and the go-ahead RBI. More trouble came when Geier plunked Tyler Tietje to bring home Krauss to make it 5-3. Brendan Haas stepped in and waited for ball four to score Botjer.
Then, Zack George popped foul. Geier, sprinted over and made the catch, but the momentum took him into the Patrick Henry dugout. The home plate umpire immediately sent all baserunners up one base, scoring pinch-runner Greg Bergstedt.
"That might have been a first," said coach Inselmann about scoring four without a hit. "It's a nice time to have a first."
That was all Inselmann needed to get through the seventh. Inselmann gave up a double to Howell to start the inning, but after Brad Heyne struck out, Howell tried to steal third and was gunned down by Krauss who threw to third perfectly to get the second out. Cody Muhlenkamp struck out to end the game.
For the younger Inselmann, the performance erased the memory of last year's game when his walk to Tyler Schwieterman with the bases loaded scored the winning run.
"I was waiting for this game," said Inselmann, who struck out six and walked two in the complete-game win. "I had good control today and pretty good stuff. They're good hitters and you needed to keep them off-balance. Our defense played awesome. It means everything in the world to me. Last year I was so down on myself because I was the one who gave up the winning run. It just feels so good to get these guys, they're a good team."
"I thought it was a gutsy performance from him," said coach Inselmann about his son. "I thought he battled out of a lot of jams, a lot of that was great defense."
Coldwater dented the scoring column in the top of the first when Craig Wellman scored when the throw to get Ryan Gerlach at first pulled George off the bag. After the Patriots tied it up in the second and took the lead in the third, Coldwater scored two in the bottom of the fourth. Brad Heyne drove home Gerlach with a double and later scored on Kyle Schoenherr's single.
Both coaches praised the other and talked about the meetings each time.
"This is the third time (the teams have met) and we've had excellent battles all the way through," said coach Inselmann. "We certainly respect Coldwater and the program they have. It showed the determination of the ballclub."
Harlamert congratulated Inselmann after the game, but let him know as well that they expect another meeting next year.
"I told him I was expecting next year, same time, same channel," said Harlamert. "This has been a very good battle with two very good programs. Hopefully, this makes us stronger."