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State Bound

Falcons drop Ridgewood, 4-1 to earn berth in Final Four A three-run fourth frame and the pitching prowess of Ethan Lauder propelled the Minford Falcons to their first ever, State playoff berth, as they downed the West Lafayette Ridgewood Generals, by a 4-1 count on the campus of The Ohio State University. Lauder, a junior, fired seven innings of nine strikeout baseball, while giving up nine hits-with most of those coming in the opening three innings-with only one batter reaching on a hit by pitch and no walks issued. The start of the game was rocky at best, as Luke Lindamood punched out a base hit up the middle in the top of the first before a strikeout stranded the Falcon catcher. Lauder gave up three consecutive, one-out singles in the home half of the stanza, before he was able to settle in and fan the next batter before forcing a fly out to center to end the inning. Minford scored in the second, when third baseman Reid Schultz was beaned by a pitch. A strikeout provided the second out of the inning for Ridgewood before Bailey Rowe rifled a single to right, sending Schultz to third. With runners at the corners and two down, a passed ball allowed the alert Schultz to sprint home with the game’s first run. General pitcher Kolton Alexander whiffed the nine-hitter for the Falcons to halt another Minford scoring opportunity. Ridgewood bounced back with their own run in their next turn at bat. After Lauder struck out the leadoff hitter of the inning, right-fielder Nick Morton busted a double. Lauder then whiffed Chase Minet, the General’s catcher, before Kaden Smith singled, driving in Morton. Lauder then completed the hat trick, striking out Kolten Smith for the third out. Both teams went down in order over the third, before the Falcons smacked the Generals with three runs in the top half of the fourth. Shortstop Nathan McCormick roped a one-out double to left, as Schultz followed up with a single, sending McCormick to third. First-baseman Payton Davis then drilled one up the middle to bring McCormick home as Schultz scampered to third, bringing Bailey Rowe to the plate. On a great call and execution, Rowe laid down a perfect bunt away from the left side of the infield, as Schultz slipped in with the second score of the stanza. Freshman Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis then lined a two-out single to score Davis as the Falcons soared to a 4-1 advantage. Ridgewood never seemed to recover after the fourth, as Lauder’s right arm kept the General’s from seriously challenging the Falcon lead. The closest they would come would be in the fourth, when, with two outs, Lauder hit a batter and gave up a walk, putting a runner in scoring position. He settled down, however, battling the Ridgewood leadoff hitter to a 2-2 count, before sitting down the batter on strikes. From there, Lauder surrendered only a pair of singles, while fanning a trio of Generals over the final three innings. Minford’s three-run fourth would hold up, as only Schultz and Rowe singled over the last three Falcon at-bats. In the final frame for Ridgewood, Lauder struck out the first batter before giving up a single. Lauder then got a pop-up to first before a fly out to center-fielder Darius Jordan sent the Falcons to the State Tournament for the first time in school history. Schultz and Rowe were the only Falcons with two-hit games, with McCormick collecting the only extra base hit for Minford. Jordan, Lindamood, Vogelsong and Payton Davis all singled for the Falcons as Schultz scored twice, with McCormick and Davis crossing the plate once, as the middle part of the lineup provided Minford with the punch they needed. The win became even more special, taking place on Head Coach Aaron Hopper’s 28th birthday. “There have been a few things that have happened on my birthday that have been pretty good,” Hopper said. “A couple of days after my birthday — two years in a row — I was a part of two national championship-winning teams (at NCAA Division III Marietta College in 2011 and 2012), and this victory today ranks right up there with them. It’s a special group. They play together, and you just really can’t ask for anything more out of a baseball team than playing together. That’s exactly what happened today. It was good, good team baseball — some of the best team baseball that we’ve played for a couple of weeks.” The men of Minford (25-2)-and their huge contingent of fans-will now return to Bill Davis Stadium in Columbus on Thursday, May 31st, to battle the Coldwater Cavaliers, owners of a 25-6 record, in the Division III OHSAA State Semifinals. The first pitch of the next chapter in the Falcons historic season will be thrown at 4:00 P.M.

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