Westminster C. takes first step
ASHTON -- Westminster Christian didn't put on a dominating performance Saturday, but it was a championship-worthy performance
Forced to play small ball against Alden-Hebron starter Zak Engelbrecht, the Warriors scratched across three runs in the
bottom of the fifth to break a 1-all tie despite hitting only one ball out of the infield in the frame.
That cushion was enough for Westminster ace Ben Palmer, who went the distance as the top-seeded Warriors beat the sixth-seeded
Giants in a regional title game for the second year in a row, this time earning a 6-1 win in the Ashton-Franklin Center Class
1A Regional final.
The Warriors now return home to host the Westminster Christian Sectional this week. They'll continue their quest for a
second straight trip Downstate when they take on No. 2 Dakota on Wednesday in the sectional semifinals.
"We're feeling good right now, but this (regional championship) is kind of in the back of our mind now because we're focused
on sectionals," Palmer said. "This is a nice victory and all, and a championship is always nice, but we're focused on the
Despite battling a steady wind that was blowing out, Engelbrecht and Palmer managed to engage in a pitchers' duel for much
of the contest.
Westminster (24-9) struck for the first run in the bottom of the third when Ryan Donahue led off with a walk, moved to
second on Ted Grossman's sacrifice bunt, went to third on Casey Schuring's bunt single and scored when Schuring was caught
in a rundown between first and second base moments later.
Alden-Hebron (20-4) answered right back in the top of the fourth when Mark Winkelman hit a high fly ball that carried over
the fence in center field for a solo home run to knot the score at 1.
That's where the score remained until the fifth when Donahue again led off and started a rally, this time by being hit
by a pitch. He then moved to third on back-to-back sacrifice bunts by Grossman and Schuring and scored on Tyler Beachler's
The two-out rally continued as Westminster pushed across two more runs when Beachler scored on an error and Jake Moeller
came home on Chadd Schroy's RBI single to left, putting the Warriors ahead 4-1.
"There was a little sense of urgency (in the fifth inning)," Donahue said. "We knew we had to start manufacturing runs
because we weren't really driving the ball today. We did what we needed to do and the team came through and started moving
the runners around."
In the sixth Westminster loaded the bases with no outs thanks to back-to-back singles from Brandon Siewert and Brandon
Weingartner and another Donahue walk. That prompted a Giants pitching change, but it didn't keep the Warriors from continuing
to find success with their small ball approach.
With one out, Schuring laid down a sacrifice bunt that scored Siewert, and Weingartner later scored thanks to an error
to make the score 6-1.
"We told the kids (before the game) that if we struggle we're going to play small ball," Westminster coach Jeff Moeller
said. "We wanted to put the pressure on the defense and make them make a play. We just thought we could be effective doing
that and it worked for us."
Palmer insisted he didn't have his best stuff, but he was good enough to strike out 10 batters and walk only two in seven
innings. He scattered five hits and his defense was flawless behind him as he improved his pitching record to 6-3.
"My velocity was not the greatest today," Palmer said. "I just had to take each pitch one at a time because I knew I didn't
have my 'A' game."
Alden-Hebron entered the game hoping to avenge last year's 11-0 loss to the Warriors in a regional championship at Westminster,
but it wasn't meant to be.
Engelbrecht (6-1) took the loss for the Giants after allowing three earned runs on seven hits while striking out five and
walking four in five-plus innings.
"It was (Westminster's) day," Alden-Hebron coach Ken Winkelman said. "Last year we lost to them pretty bad, but this year
we played respectable right up to the end."