BOWLING GREEN — After watching his teammates scorch the ball in batting practice and carry it over into a district baseball title game, Anthony Wayne junior pitcher Aaron Stark looked like a man on a mission to protect his team's lead Saturday.
Stark pitched three innings of nearly perfect relief to lead the Generals to a 5-2 victory over Bowling Green in a Division I district championship at Carter Park.
Stark entered the game in the fifth inning with his team holding a two-run lead. He proceeded to mow the Bobcats down, striking out the side in the fifth and sending them down in order in the sixth. Stark did not allow a hit and the only BG player to reach was hit by a pitch.
“I knew I had the lead. I just had to pitch strikes,” Stark said. “We had a good [batting practice] before the game and we [continued] to hit the ball. Today my off-speed was on. I threw fastballs too. I just threw strikes. Overall both teams played great. We came out on top.”
Anthony Wayne (19-8) advances to the regional for the first time since 2009 and will face Southview in a semifinals at 5 p.m. Thursday at Bowling Green State University’s Stellar Field.
Stark earned his first save and gave starter Mason Zimmerman, who gave up two runs on seven hits, the win.
“Aaron Stark came in and was lights out,” AW coach Mark Nell said. “Mason didn't have his best stuff today, but competed and he got us through four. And then Stark came in and he was the man. He was pumping the strike zone. That was the key there.”
Each team had seven hits. Anthony Wayne's D.J. Komisarek and Austin Kottenbrock each had two singles.
“We were swinging the bat pretty well earlier today [in batting practice],” Komisarek said. “So I knew we were going to hit good. We knew we had the game locked in when [Stark] came in to pitch.”
Jeremy Chambers and Clark Mayberry had two hits apiece for BG (15-13), which took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on Mayberry's two-out RBI single.
AW responded with two in the bottom of the inning. Peyton Brown and Kottenbrock led off with singles. Brown scored on a fielder's choice by Josh Schwerer. Kottenbrock gave the Generals a 2-1 lead on Stark's infield single.
The Bobcats stranded nine runners batters, leaving the bases loaded in both the second and third innings.
“We had two innings in a row where we had the bases loaded but we just couldn't get that one key hit,” BG coach Bob Schultz said. “After the first couple of innings we played some really good baseball. I think we were a little nervous and it took a little bit to get going.”
Anthony Wayne added single runs in the second and third innings for a 4-1 cushion. The Generals scored on a BG wild throw during a run down in the second. Alex Vogel laid down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt to plate Alex Meyers.
The Generals stranded eight runners overall and had the bases loaded with no outs in the second but could not score.
“We tacked on. But we should have scored eight or nine runs,” Nell said. “We left the bases loaded with no one out and got no one in. We need to do a better job of that down the line.”
A big turning point came in the fourth when it appeared BG had pulled within a run. Andy Fisher scored on Spencer Schultz's single to make it 4-2. Ricky Riggs also looked like he had beaten the throw from right field, sliding under the tag, but was called out.
“That play at the plate wasn't even close,” coach Schultz said. “He [the catcher] had the ball up in the air and he [Riggs] was sliding across the plate. That was huge. It's 4-3 at that point and we would have had a runner on third. I can't say that's the reason why we lost. But we had some things going against us.”
The Bobcats upset top-seeded Mansfield Madison 2-1 in a district semifinal.
The Generals managed to tack on a single run in the sixth on Kottenbrock's sac fly. AW, which leads the NLL with a 9-3 record, has two league games left — against Maumee on Monday and Napoleon on Tuesday.