The New London Wildcats met up with the Wynford Royals in the Division IV district semifinals for a chance to play for a district title. The Wildcats and Royals met in the district final last season, a 6-1 Wildcats win. This time around, the two teams met in the semifinals, but the outcome remained the same as New London took home a 3-1 win to punch their ticket to the final at 5 p.m. on Friday in Galion.
After beating the Royals in the district final last season, New London coach Tony Hamilton admitted that didn’t give the Wildcats a ton of confidence heading into Wednesday.
“I don’t think it gave us a lot of confidence,” Hamilton said. “I know how good that team is despite their record. They had some injuries during the year. We knew they were going to battle us to the end. We were not expecting an easy game. They play a great defensive game and it was a joy to be able to compete with them.”
The Wildcats jumped out to an early 2-0 lead after Jake Gerlak started things off with a walk and was bunted over by Derek Smith. After a Ryan Lane walk, Gerlak stole third and scored on a dropped third strike for the first run of the ballgame. Lane then made the trip home on a Keaton Houghtlen groundout to third putting the Wildcats up 2-0 early.
“That gave us some breathing room and it also took some air out of their sail,” Hamilton said. “The first inning was typical for us and that is usually how we score. We get a walk, a steal, a sacrifice and passed ball. We love to score without hitting the ball. We have to do that to win ballgames.”
From there, the Wildcats turned it over to ace pitcher Ryan Lane who collected 14 strikeouts on the day and allowed one run in the fourth. The Wildcats committed four errors behind him and the only run scored because of a 2-out error. He went the distance allowing just four hits.
“We didn’t help him much with a lot of errors and a few mistakes in the field,” Hamilton said. “It is something that will be addressed before Friday. We could have hit the ball a little better, but with Ryan Lane on the mound and a couple of nice defensive plays, we were able to pull it off.
“He has a slider that was really throwing them off. Then he would come back with an outside pitch or one up at the letter where it is extremely hard to hit and he held a very good hitting Wynford team. Their record doesn’t show how good they are and I knew that and that is why I went with Ryan on the hill.”
New London added an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth after Lane reached on a fielder’s choice and was again driven in by Houghtlen with an RBI single. Houghtlen led the way at the plate with a hit and two RBI. Joe Christoph had a 2-hit night. The Wildcats had just four hits on the day as Smith added the final hit.
The Wildcats move on to take on St. Paul who was a 5-4 winner over Plymouth in the second game of the district double-header. It will be the third time the two teams meet this season as they split the regular season matchup and were co-Firelands Conference champions.
“I wanted to see a Firelands Conference district championship,” Hamilton said. “I told them I wanted to play either one of them. We are not going to surprise each other. We know what they do and they know what we do. We are going to have to play our best to beat them.”
The district final game kicks off at 5 p.m. on Friday in Galion at Heise Park.