WILTON − It was only fitting that Tuesday night's district baseball matchup between Wilton and Durant end the same way it began: with a Jared Townsend strikeout.
Townsend allowed one hit and mowed down 14 Durant batters to lead Wilton to a 5-0 win in the Class 2A district 8 semifinal on its home field. Wilton will advance to the district final to face West Branch, while Durant will end its season with an 8-21 record.
“His off-speed was working well and his fastball is very good,” Wilton coach Jake Souhrada said. “Put those things together and he had a great night.”
Although the Beavers (23-5) were held in check offensively, they took advantage of two Wildcat errors to take a 2-0 lead and give Townsend a cushion to work with. Wilton’s junior pitcher took matters into his own hands from there.
“It definitely makes it a lot easier for me,” Townsend said. “I could relax a little bit, but I’m always going to go out there with a lot of confidence and do what I can do.”
Townsend only allowed three base runners in the first six innings. Two of them reached on dropped third strikes, while the third reached on a fielder's choice. Outside of that, his arsenal of pitches that included an overpowering fastball and a precise slider was too much for Durant to handle.
“I was just trying to get ahead in the count, throw first-pitch strikes and go from there,” Townsend said. “My goal is to make them earn their way on base.”
However, the game remained close as Durant pitcher Brendan Paper held Wilton in check most of the night. Paper struck out seven batters in 6 1/3 innings and allowed just two hits in the first six innings of the game.
But a walk followed by a third Durant error opened the door for Wilton in the sixth inning, and senior Chantz Stevens slammed the door shut on the Wildcats' season with a two-RBI double to give the Beavers an insurmountable 5-0 lead.
“The first game is a one-and-done tournament is always the toughest,” Souhrada said. “Our bats weren’t fantastic, but we got just enough to get the job done.”
Now Wilton is set to face a familiar opponent in the district final at 7 p.m. in West Branch. The Beavers swept the Bears by scores of 8-3 and 11-7 in what was the season opener for both teams.
West Branch 6, West Liberty 4: When the ball came off Jackson Gingerich’s bat in the bottom of the seventh, it appeared West Liberty had pulled off the rally it needed. With a runner on first and his team down two runs, Gingerich hit a shot into left field.
But, it was caught by a West Branch defender just short of the fence, and West Liberty fell by a score of 6-4 in the Class 2A, District 8 semifinals in Wilton. The Comets ended their season with a 10-16 record, while the Bears advance to the district title with a 12-14 record.
“We hit balls hard, we just didn’t make enough plays defensively,” West Liberty coach Troy Wulf said. “We didn’t play clean enough.”
The Comets allowed a run in the opening inning, but took advantage of one of the Bears’ four errors to score a pair of runs.
The Bears had committed another error throwing to first, and Hartman took off from second base and took advantage of a bobbled ball by the catcher to score at home and give the Comets a 3-1 lead.
But the Comets missed two chances later on, as two Caleb Wulf line drives turned into double plays in the fourth and sixth innings when a West Liberty baserunner had a big lead.
The Comets stranded two runners in the fourth, and then managed just one run with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth. Then West Liberty committed four errors in the last three innings that contributed to West Branch’s five runs, and that was too much for the Comets to overcome.
“I think we had a great chance to win,” Troy Wulf said. “I think our guys played hard, we just didn’t execute.”