Top-seeded Norwalk preps for third meeting with Bellevue

·5 min read

May 26—NORWALK — Through all the ups and downs, the scenario is almost perfect.

In a season that took a bit to get going, the Norwalk High School baseball team finds itself facing a league rival for the right to play for another trophy this week.

The Truckers (18-7) — the No. 1 seed in the Division II Fremont district — will face No. 4 Bellevue (15-9) at 2 p.m. Thursday in a district semifinal matchup.

The two teams have been league foes dating back over a half-century in the Northern Ohio League and Sandusky Bay Conference Lake Division.

"Gotta love it," said senior catcher Sam Battles. "No one else you'd rather want to play in a game like that."

During the regular season, the Truckers and Redmen played seven days apart in April. Norwalk claimed a 5-1 win vs. Bellevue on April 15, then took a 15-6 win on the road on April 22.

And while Norwalk has gone from 5-3 to 18-7, the Redmen are on a hot streak of their own. Bellevue was 7-7 entering the final day of April, but have won eight of its last 10 games.

"It's going to be a huge battle," Norwalk senior Eli Obringer said. "Bellevue always gets better as the year goes on and Ethan (Mohr) is a great pitcher.

"But I also think we're gaining confidence in the batter's box and hitting the ball hard. We just have to make them make plays."

Mohr was one of the top pitchers in the are during the regular season for Bellevue. He was 5-2 with a 0.95 ERA, as he allowed six earned runs in 44 innings while striking out 58 and walking 11.

In the April 15 game in Norwalk, the Truckers took a slim 2-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning, then scored three runs. Mohr went six innings in that game, striking out six with no walks while allowing three earned runs on six hits.

In a 7-3 win against Huron in a sectional title game on May 20, Mohr went the distance and allowed three earned runs on six hits. He struck out nine and walked two in seven innings.

"Our kids being focused doesn't concern me, but putting the ball in play against the better pitchers we're going to see is a concern," Norwalk head coach Wes Douglas said. "The Mohr kid has taken leaps and bounds in a year. He's gone from an average high school pitcher to getting looks from Ball State and Findlay.

"He doesn't walk people, and throws 80-to-82 mph with a great slider," he added. "He's not easy to run on. (Coach) Andy Dennings gets that team better every year and this is no different. It should be a good matchup."

During the month of May, the Truckers have also gotten solid pitching. They've allowed just 16 earned runs in nine games.

"Pitchers have been throwing a lot of strikes, and that's been a big thing," Battles said. "We don't have a lot of power arms, but we can throw some junk. But throwing strikes and making plays on defense wins ball games."

That included a 10-0 win over Clyde in a sectional title game on May 20, where the Truckers removed all doubt after two narrow wins over the Fliers earlier in the month.

"I didn't have a good feeling before that game — I really had a great feeling," Douglas said. "We had great batting practice, two very good practices in general the two days before ... this is a veteran group for the most part that is settled into their roles and comfortable."

Obringer missed five games before returning against the Fliers in the sectional title game. The senior had started every possible game of his career before a back injury threatened to end his career prematurely.

In the two games since he returned, Obringer has been a nice spark in batting 4-for-6 (.666) with three RBIs.

"I needed to do everything I could to come back," Obringer said. "It was very surreal to be back out here. I definitely wanted to finish my high school career here on a good note, and we did.

"Obviously our district is pretty tough, but we feel confident in our chances."

The district appearance is the 11th in the last 18 years under Douglas. The Truckers had won nine sectional championships in the 31 seasons prior to 2004.

Facing a team three times in the same season is an old hat for the current Norwalk players and coaches. The Truckers played Perkins in 2019 and 2021 in sectional title games, splitting the pair.

"Just try to take what you've learned," Douglas said of the approach to such a familiar opponent. "We try to keep as many hit charts as we can and notes on pitchers and things that they do.

"Again, their reputation under Coach Dennings is that they play their best at the end of the year. And they don't have the same style all the time. They like to sit back and hit, but they will play small ball on the bases. They play the game the right way."

Another big key for Norwalk's late season surge has been the bottom of the lineup contributing more.

Over the last three games — victories over St. Paul, Clyde and Genoa — the bottom four portion of the order is 14 for 32 (.437) with nine RBIs.

"We're swinging the bats a little better, especially at the bottom of the lineup," Douglas said. "Griffin Peiples and Kelton Chapin, notably, and Ben Rothhaar, too. We're ready to roll, and we'll see what happens."

With a win, Norwalk would play for a district title at 12 p.m. Saturday. The Truckers are seeking their fourth district title game appearance under Douglas, and the program's first regional appearance since 1980.

The second district semifinal features No. 2 Perkins (16-8) against No. 3 Shelby (16-6).

"We have beaten Bellevue twice, so it's not like we're going over there 0-2," Douglas said. "I'd rather be 2-0 than 0-2 obviously.

"But all four teams in this district, any team can get out — especially if it stays the way it is having to use two pitchers," he added. "I think we have as good of a chance as anyone."