Anthony Wayne pitcher Mason Zimmerman (23), right, cheers from the dug out during a game. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
A rough week served as a catalyst for one of the best seasons in Anthony Wayne baseball history.
The Generals suffered four consecutive losses from April 20-26 and the team's record plummeted to 8-8. AW coach Mark Nell called it the most difficult week in his 14 years.
“We talked about it and I went to our dry-eraser boards in the locker room and put all the statistics down and it all made sense why we didn't win those games,” Nell said. “The kids decided they didn't like that week. We lost four games and it wasn't a good week. The kids bought into that. It's their team.”
The players have since reeled off 13 straight wins. During the hot streak, the Generals have captured Northern Lakes League, sectional, and district championships.
Anthony Wayne (21-8) has advanced to the Division I regional semifinals and will play Southview at 5 p.m. today at Bowling Green State University’s Stellar Field. The Generals last won district titles in 2006 and 2009, but have yet to reach the state tournament.
Lead-off hitter Peyton Brown, who leads the team with a .410 average, said the team was scuffling because it was playing too tight.
“The difference is our mentality,” said Brown, a junior who also has 10 stolen bases. “We were playing uptight that week and we were playing not to lose. Now we're playing to win and we're just having fun.”
Pitcher Aaron Stark, who earned a save in the 5-2 district final over Bowling Green, said the team began playing well in all three facets of the game after the slump.
“When we were 8-8, we weren't functioning as a team yet,” said Stark, a junior who has a 2.88 ERA. “We weren't hitting the ball. After 8-8, we just decided it was a new season. We started hitting the ball.”
Catcher D.J. Komisarek, who is hitting .347 with 10 RBIs, agreed that the team was not mentally sharp.
“It's a mindset,” Komisarek said. “We're playing a lot harder and a lot better baseball. We're making a lot of noise in the dugout. I think we came together and started to wishing and praying for things. We've been getting good luck and playing hard.”
The Generals were picked to finish fourth in the NLL, but tied for the title with Perrysburg. They defeated Napoleon 3-2 on Tuesday to go 11-3 in the NLL. Stark earned the win.
Anthony Wayne split games with the Yellow Jackets, who won their second title in a row and third in four years.
But the Generals topped Perrysburg 3-2 in nine innings in the sectional final.
“The NLL is awesome,” Nell said. “It is a great league top to bottom. Any team can beat anybody.”
The Generals defeated Southview 3-2 and 1-0 in their NLL games this season. The Cougars (17-9) have lost several one-run games and are 5-6 in the NLL.
“Southview to me is as good as any team in the NLL,” Nell said. “They lost some close games and they are hot. It is going to be a battle. Hopefully we'll get the bats going. They swing it, play good defense, and they have some good athletes. We'll have to play our best game.”
Brown said he expects another tight game.
“We got the best of them both times but we know they are a really good team,” Brown said. “We're not overlooking them.”
AW counts heavily on sound fundamental defense. The Generals also are able to manufacture runs through speed and aggression on the base paths. We rely on pitching, defense, and small ball,” Nell said.
Senior third baseman Alex Meyers is batting .340 and has scored 13 runs.
What sets this year's team apart is the depth of its pitching staff. Although no true ace has emerged, Nell can rely on a half dozen arms.
Senior Josh Schwerer (5-1) has the lowest ERA at 1.19. He has struck out 39 batters in 41 1/3 innings. Schwerer also has 10 steals.
Junior Mason Zimmerman has pitched the most innings (42) and has a 5-2 record with a 2.50 ERA.
Stark, who threw three nearly perfect relief innings in the district final, is 3-1.
Senior Chad Windom (2-0) has a 3.48 ERA with 11 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings. Senior Alex Murphy (2-1) has a 4.80 ERA. Junior Michael Conklin (1-2) pitched in the win over Maumee and has a 3.48 ERA.
“We have five or six guys that we can throw and we don't have a true No. 1,” Nell said. “But we have five or six pretty good high school pitchers that can be good on any given day and that's what we rely on.”
That depth has been helpful in recent days. The Generals played in the district semifinals Thursday and the final on Saturday. The team then had to turn around and play crucial NLL games against Maumee on Monday and Napoleon on Tuesday, leading up to the regional semi today.
Murphy, a senior shortstop, is hitting .298 with 16 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.
Senior Austin Kottenbrock, a second baseman, hits second in the order and has a .254 average with 10 RBIs. Freshman first baseman Alex Vogel (10 RBIs) has come on strong. Senior Vince Schneider is the left fielder.
Brown, who leads the NLL in batting average, said hitting has been contagious.
“It's been amazing,” Brown said. “We had a couple guys struggle a little bit ago but everyone is going full cylinder now.”
The Generals have won four district titles in their history. The last two times AW reached the regional it lost in the final.
“This feels amazing,” Brown said. “We struggled earlier in the year but we're coming back and we've been on a real hot streak.”