Finals bound again
By RYAN PAPASERGE
OBSERVER Sports Reporter
The Westfield Wolverines defeated the Leonardo da Vinci Dragons, 9-2, Friday in Buffalo to advance to their third straight Section 6 Class C championship game and the fourth in five years.
Rob Burgess and Jon Coe combined to scatter six hits while striking out nine.
Junior captain Cam Wright belted a solo home run to extend the Wolverine advantage to 4-2 in the fifth inning.
“That opened the floodgates,” Westfield coach Doug Kaltenbach said.
In the sixth inning, freshman Jonathan Wilson hit a two-run single thanks to some luck as his slow roller hit the first base bag and bounced over the first baseman’s head.
Burgess had three hits while Nolan Hunt drove in three runs on two hits. Wright also had two hits.
The win was Westfield’s 16th in a row and earned the Wolverines a date with Portville Wednesday at Diethrick Park in Jamestown.
“It’s good,” Kaltenbach said of playing in the finals again. “It’s been quite the ride for us. We know (Portville’s) a very good team. We also don’t think we played our best game (Friday) either. Hopefully we can straighten some of those things out.”
After the season Kaltenbach and his team have had, it might be hard for Westfield to act like they’ve played a big game at Diethrick Park before.
The road to another Sectional final began during the offseason, when Westfield’s school board elected to cut funding to the jayvee baseball and softball teams. Kaltenbach and his assistantss weren’t just making the typical jayvee call-ups – they were merging the jayvee and varsity programs.
“That made me very apprehensive about the season,” Kaltenbach said. “Little did I know that turned out to be a positive and little did I know what it would turn out to be.
“Frankly, it came down to interviews instead of tryouts,” Kaltenbach continued. “I tried to keep kids who fit into our program on and off the field. The guys who wanted to play wanted to stay. I only had x amount of uniforms and I ended up giving our coaches uniforms to two more kids so I could keep them. It’s not like I kept them for charity.”
When the process was finished, five players from last year’s varsity squad joined seven graduates among those who didn’t return to the Wolverines.
Westfield dropped its first game in CCAA Division 3 play via a 5-0 decision against Pine Valley April 15.
“We sat down and had a long talk (after the game),” Kaltenbach said.
Kaltenbach’s long talk must have worked – the Wolverines haven’t lost since.
Westfield is still savoring the sweetest of the 16 wins, a 12-3 result over Frewsburg last Wednesday in a Class C quarterfinal. Even former players were relieved.
“It was an absolutely huge monkey off our backs,”Kaltenbach said. “It’s so nice to have players I’ve had from 20 years ago (get in touch with me). I got a message from one of my first players 25 years ago. It still bothers them.”
The coach’s phone and Facebook profile were both chock full of messages on the ride home from Buffalo Friday victorious as well.
“It was amazing,” Kaltenbach said. “I was reading them and passing them along. A lot of people think it’s only a game, but it hurts to go out that way.”
It hurt along the way this season for Westfield as well. Starting catcher Coe and starting third baseman Dan Tofil missed significant periods of time during league play with a sprained ankle and a severely dislocated finger, respectively. Wright and many others stepped up in their absence.
“(Wright) was an interesting story with this team,” Kaltenbach said. “Cam, who splits time all over, just goes with the flow and does whatever he has to. The night before Frewsburg, my second baseman comes down with what we thought was mono. I said to Cam, ‘You’re going to be starting against Frewsburg.’ He settled down, he had a huge home run (Friday). Just a great team player. How much he has stepped up has been awesome.
“Of course, (the injuries) happened in the meat of our schedule,” Kaltenbach added. “Looking back, that was a huge turning point. These guys found out they could win without these senior star players. We’re not your typical high school team.”
Another Westfield surprise has been sophomore pitcher Nolan Hunt, who stepped into a starting role this season and carries a sub-one ERA into Wednesday’s game.
“Nolan’s a fantastic baseball player in all aspects of the game.” Kaltenbach said. “We feel good as a team when Nolan pitches because he’s been that dominant.”
It’s all led to the Wolverines being seven innings away from a Class C crown.
“Everybody acts like we’ve never gotten this far,” Kaltenbach said. “It’s because of the fact that we’ve been a new team. It’s been great. In 26 years, it has to be one of the top seasons as far as enjoyment goes. It’s the nicest group of guys I’ve ever had. They’re great to be around. We started the year with unknown expectations and some of these guys who were starting (Friday) were close to being cut a few months ago.
“Obviously, our goal is to win a Sectional on Wednesday. If that doesn’t happen, I’m still as proud as I’ve ever been of a team I’ve coached. Our season is not going to be defined by what we do Wednesday.”