Allen, Brzeczek seek to keep ‘Cats in hunt for title

J. Patrick Eaken

Heading into last week’s play, Woodmore baseball was tied for first place with Lake at 4-1 in the Northern Buckeye Conference. The Wildcats’ prospects were looking good.

Then came a 3-2 loss to NBC preseason favorite Otsego, and suddenly the ‘Cats were not on top anymore. But they will stay in the hunt if Woodmore coach Jacob Huss has anything to say about it.

On Wednesday at Eastwood, the Eagles scored eight runs in the bottom of the fourth and Ethan Rapp tossed a one-hitter as the Wildcats fell, 11-1, in a five-inning mercy ruled game. Rapp needed just 72 pitches, 38 of them strikes. 

Senior D.J. Melter got Woodmore’s only hit, a solo home run in the top half of the fourth, his first of the season. After that the ‘Cats were down just 3-1, but Eastwood belted out 11 hits, including four doubles and a triple to pull away.

After the losses last week, Woodmore fell to 11-7 overall and 4-3, but at the start of the season it did not look even this promising.

“We struggled a little bit at the beginning of the year, but I think the guys are starting to come together and support each other and are playing as a team, picking each other up,” Huss said.

The Wildcats did win some early non-league games, defeating Northwood, 7-2, Oak Harbor, 12-6, Cardinal Stritch, 11-7, and Margaretta 9-5.  The ‘Cats also had losses to Lakota, Delta, Fremont St. Joseph and they split a doubleheader with Port Clinton.

However, Eastwood wasted no time in taking down the ‘Cats for their first NBC loss, 9-2, the first time the two teams met. As a result, the Eagles have supplied Woodmore with two of their three league losses, but in both games the Wildcats seemed to be in good shape. 

“In the bottom of the fourth we scored two runs so were going into the fifth up 2-0, and then they really had some nice hits and they scored four or five runs in the fifth inning,” Huss said about their first encounter.

Woodmore 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior right-handed pitcher Hunter Allen had kept Eastwood hitless through four innings, but he walked the first batter in the fifth inning on the ninth pitch of the at-bat. The next Eagle bunted, and the Wildcats’ throw to first base went into right field and the next three Eastwood batters got base hits. Allen did all he could, throwing 100 pitches in five innings-plus of work.

Before Eastwood’s rally, Allen had doubled the previous inning to score the first two runs of the game, but the Eagles used their plate discipline to drive up his pitch count.  He struck out long ball hitter Andrew Arntson twice and then Arntson doubled in the fifth to score two.  Lake Boos pitched for Eastwood and with his control locating pitches, he struck out 12 Wildcats.

The following day, the Wildcats fell to St. Joseph, 6-5. Then they got back to NBC action defeating Fostoria 12-4 and followed with a non-league win over Gibsonburg, 2-1.

Huss believes the Gibsonburg win was what Woodmore needed before they really started tearing up the NBC, including handing Lake their only league loss of the season, 3-2.

“Lake was one of our biggest wins, for sure. I think the win over Gibsonburg was a little bit of a turning point,” Huss said. “We were struggling a little bit at the beginning of the season and we were down 1-0 to Gibsonburg and in the bottom of the seventh we ended up scoring two and that provided a spark for us.”

Mike Brzeczek, a 6-1, 200 pound senior southpaw, got the win on the mound over the Flyers, pitching 6.1 innings.

“Pitching was great. Mike Brzeczek threw that game, and he threw a lot of strikes and our defense played well behind him,” Huss said. “We had a lot of clutch hits — just good hits at the right time. We beat Lake 3-2, Otsego beat us 3-2, and in those games, it is about getting the right hit at the right time.”

Brzeczek has put in the most work and is 3-2 with a 3.67 ERA, striking out 46 and allowing 32 hits and 18 earned runs in 34.1 innings. Allen is 3-2 with a 3.65 ERA, striking out 52 with 20 hits and 16 runs. Huss says Allen “throws hard” and “throws a lot of strikes,” keeping the team in close games.

Senior Zach Hunt in 23.1 innings is 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA, 28 strikeouts and has allowed 18 hits and six earned runs. Junior Blake Almroth is 1-0 with 12 strikeouts, 10 hits and 10 runs in 13.1 innings.

This team can hit, too. Offensively, Allen, who plans to play college baseball, is batting an incredulous .537 (29 for 54) in the cleanup spot to lead the NBC with 16 runs, 27 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. Allen is five RBIs short of breaking the single season record (31), and 13 hits from breaking the single season hits record (41). 

Melter, who bats from the left side, is hitting .421 (24 for 57) with 19 runs, 17 RBIs and 10 SB. Junior Aaron Miller is batting .333 (13 for 39) with 16 runs, six RBIs and 14 SB and Brzeczek is hitting .304 (17 for 56) with four runs, 14 RBIs and four SB.

The only issue is how capable will Woodmore be at keeping pace in the league? Lake coach Greg Wilker says any of seven teams could win the NBC this year and it may come down to who has the deepest pitching staff.

Take Otsego, Lake, and Eastwood out of the equation, and there is still plenty of talent. In league action, Woodmore has a 9-6 win over Genoa behind the pitching of Allen and an 11-6 win over Elmwood in eight innings as Allen threw 124 pitches, which shows the stress the ‘Cats have to put on their staff. However, Genoa jumped on Otsego’s ace pitcher Alex Dzierwa for a 9-6 win and the preseason favorite Knights are barely over .500 in all games this year.

Huss is not going to argue with Wilkers’ premonitions that this could be one crazy season in the NBC.

“I knew going into it with the whole COVID deal last year, I don’t think anybody knew what to expect. Now that we’re past the start of the season, I still don’t think anybody knows what to expect,” Huss said. “It is kind of like anybody can beat anybody on any given night. Top to bottom, it is a very strong league.”






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