HAMLER - The Van Buren baseball team had an inkling of what damage Patrick Henry hitters were capable of even before yesterday's Division IV regional championship contest.
The Black Knights lost 10-2 to PH early in the season, one of 13 games before yesterday in which the Patriots scored in double digits. Patrick Henry entered the game with a .377 team batting average and had scored 254 runs, or more than nine per contest.
So Van Buren coach Bob Obenour was able to provide some perspective to the Patriots' 18-6 shellacking in a game that was ended after five innings.
"If you look at the score, you'd think our pitching was terrible," Obenour said. "But it wasn't. We gave up some long shots, but they kept hitting the ball where we were not.
"There's not a weakness in their lineup, and there isn't a weakness in their hitting approach, either."
With the victory top-ranked Patrick Henry improved to 26-3 and advanced to the state semifinals. The Pats will face Fort Loramie at Cooper Stadium in Columbus on Friday at 4 p.m.
PH started taking control of the game in the bottom of the second. After allowing an unearned run in the top of the inning, the Patriots scored four times, thanks to an RBI single by Greg Bergstedt and a three-run double by Mitch Leonard.
Van Buren got a run back in the top of the third on a home run by C.J. Iliff. But in the bottom of the inning Patrick Henry took command, scoring 11 times to put the game out of reach.
"That was the key inning, to come back and reassert ourselves," PH coach Greg Inselmann said. "Once we get a lead, we like to think we can stretch that lead, but this was phenomenal."
The Patriots sent 17 batters to the plate in the third and collected 12 hits as all nine hitters scored at least once. By game's end all nine Patrick Henry starters had at least one hit and one run scored, and all but one had an RBI.
"We pride ourselves on being balanced throughout the lineup," Inselmann said. "We want to be able to hurt teams with any guy up at the plate. Right up and down the order, you have to give credit to everybody."
The 11-run outburst, followed by three more runs in the fourth, was more than enough offense behind pitcher Zach Botjer, who allowed just three hits and two walks with three strikeouts in four innings to claim the win.
"In the beginning of the game I was struggling a little bit, but when they put the ball in play the defense made some plays," Botjer said. "Then we started stroking the ball."
Botjer was one of the leaders on offense, slamming a home run, double and single with three RBIs and four runs scored. Leonard also had three hits and five RBIs, while six other Patriots had at least two hits.
The result was Inselmann's 200th career victory at Patrick Henry, his alma mater.
"Those are nice [milestones], and I'm sure I'll reflect on them more later in life," said Inselmann, who earned his 500th career victory in the district semifinals. "Right now it's about giving our guys an opportunity to go to state. This is just cream, I guess."
The Black Knights didn't quit, scoring four runs in the top of the fifth in an attempt to extend the game.
And that was just one of the reasons Obenour said he was proud of his team, which finished 15-9 after earning the school's first-ever regional berth in baseball.
"I told our guys I was very proud of them," he said. "You have to remember that we started the year 0-3, and we scored only three runs in three games and were run-ruled by a league opponent.
"We had adversity at the beginning of the season. They've believed in themselves, and they believed they could get to the regional even though no Van Buren team had ever been to regionals."
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