OTTAWA – Owen Recker started it and finished it. In between, Jeffrey Knueve might have saved it.
Kalida’s 5-4 win over McComb in a semifinal of the Ottawa Division IV baseball district tournament on Wednesday began with its starting pitcher, Recker, striking out four of the first seven batters he faced.
But then a strain in his lower back on his non-throwing side, forced the sophomore right-hander to move to third base.
He wasn’t finished, though. When McComb put what could have been the tying and winning runs in scoring position in the bottom of the seventh inning, Recker returned and stuck out three hitters in a row to end the game.
Kalida (12-10) will play Leipsic at 5 p.m. Friday for the district championship. The Wildcats, Vikings and Miller City tied for the Putnam County League championship.
Kalida responded to adversity immediately when Recker left the mound the first time by scoring twice in the top of the third inning to go ahead 2-0.
Trent Siebeneck and Derek Buss singled to start the inning before Knueve singled to score pinch-runner Clay Bellman. When Brady Decker’s hard-hit grounder got through McComb’s shortstop for an error, which brought Matt Kehres, also a pinch-runner, home for a 2-0 lead.
McComb (17-5) scored three times in the fourth inning with Siebeneck on the mound. And after the Panthers’ Tanner Schroeder opened the fifth inning with a triple, Kalida coach Joe Recker brought in Knueve, who had pitched 14 innings this season before Wednesday.
Knueve, a senior, was the Wildcats’ starting catcher until an injury forced him into a different role. He had been a designated hitter and started in left field on Wednesday.
Over the next two innings after he went to the mound he held McComb scoreless and struck out three hitters and Kalida regained the lead with three runs in the top of the fifth inning.
“He’s a senior, No. 1. He’s a gamer, No. 2. I knew he would be up to the challenge,” Joe Recker said about how he made the decision to use Knueve.
Knueve said during the regular season he pitched “maybe a game every two weeks or something like that. I did whatever was needed. He just told me to get ready. Mentally, I was ready for it,” he said.
Kalida regained the lead at 4-3 when Owen Recker doubled to score Knueve and Decker and went up 5-3 when Ethan Schmenk’s single brought Recker home.
When McComb’s Justin Wasson doubled and Tanner Schroeder walked to start the bottom of the seventh inning, Recker became both a starter and a closer in the same game.
The Panthers cut the lead to 5-4 on an infield error on Caden Schroeder’s grounder before Recker struck out three batters in a row.
“I was hurting. I was pretty sore. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to go in but I wanted the ball. So when I got the chance, I was ready,” Owen Recker said.
Joe Recker pointed to the Wildcats’ resiliency as a big factor in their win.
“We booted a ball in the last inning. Early in the year that would have killed us and we would have lost the ball game. It’s a young team with seven new starters. But now we’re kind of bending our back a little bit and saying, ‘You know what? We’ve got this,’ ” he said.
Knueve said, “Mentally we went from a team that lost seven starters from last year to a team that belonged out there today. We beat a really good McComb team. We played well and played the way we should.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.