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Bulldogs fall to Salisbury in district championship

Panthers on track to win third state title this year

Justin Addison, Editor/Publisher
Posted 5/19/23

New Franklin fell behind early and could not rally back against a rock-solid Salisbury team Wednesday night, falling 9-3 at home in the Class 2 District 7 championship. The Bulldogs finish the season …

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Bulldogs fall to Salisbury in district championship

Panthers on track to win third state title this year


New Franklin fell behind early and could not rally back against a rock-solid Salisbury team Wednesday night, falling 9-3 at home in the Class 2 District 7 championship. The Bulldogs finish the season 19-6 overall.

Salisbury has had an outstanding year athletically and could be poised to win a third state championship. In March, the Panthers won the Class 2 State basketball title. Most recently, they claimed the Class 1 boys’ state golf title.

Now 21-1 on the season, Salisbury will host Eugene (18-7) on Monday for a chance to advance to the state quarterfinals.

Despite falling to one of the best teams in the state, New Franklin finished one win shy of 20 on the season.

“It was a very good season,” said New Franklin coach Erich Gerding. “I’m proud of these seniors. They’ve put a lot of work in these four years. It was good to finally get to this point. We struggled to get to this point for a while. I was happy to see the seniors get to this point. Those young guys are going to have some big shoes to fill.”

Seeded second, New Franklin had a first-round bye in the six-team district tournament. On Monday, junior Tanner Bishop delivered a masterful performance on the mound against a drastically improved Fayette team to have a chance to play for the title against first-seeded Salisbury. The Panthers outlasted Marceline 10-1 in the semifinals.

New Franklin ace Clayton Wilmsmeyer and Salisbury starter Eli Wekenborg struggled in the first two innings to open the championship game. Both walked their first batter and gave up a run. But Salisbury emerged with a 2-1 lead after one inning.

“In a district championship game, there are nerves in the beginning,” Gerding explained about the starting pitchers. “The first inning especially is always the toughest one, other than the last one. The first three outs are almost tougher to get than the last three.”

New Franklin scored one run on two walks, a single, and an error in the top of the first inning. With two outs on the board, Clayton Wilmsmeyer crossed the plate for the first run of the game when a ground ball hit by his brother, junior Connor Wilmsmeyer, was dropped by the Salisbury first baseman.

Salisbury answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning off two walks and singles by Eli Jackson and Aidan West to take an early one-run lead.

A line drive to left field by Hamilton with two strikes scored both runs of the inning for Salisbury.

New Franklin tied the game in the top of the second. After reaching on a leadoff walk, senior Keaton Eads scored on a sacrifice fly to left field by junior Jake Marshall to knot the score at 2-2.

Once again, Salisbury answered New Franklin’s one run with two. With two outs in the bottom of the second, the Panthers scored twice off two doubles and a walk. Hamilton got things started with a two-base fly ball to deep right field. Following a walk to Jake Sellers, Wekenborg drove in both baserunners with a double to right. He was then thrown out after advancing to third to end the inning.

Leading by two in the bottom of the fourth, Salisbury drove in another run with two outs, this time off junior reliever Drew Rhorer. A single by Wekenborg drove in Ethan Hamilton, who reached on a walk.

Trailing 9-2 after five innings, New Franklin rallied back as Wekenborg’s pitch count closed in on triple digits. Connor Wilmsmeyer and Lane Hackman led off the inning with back-to-back singles. Wilmsmeyer then scored when the Salisbury third-baseman mishandled a ground ball by Eads.

One run would be all New Franklin could produce before ending the inning with a strikeout, a pop-out, and a fielder’s choice putout.

The Panthers delivered a breakout inning in the bottom of the fifth, scoring four runs off three hits, two walks, an error, and a hit batsman. Salisbury led off the inning with three straight singles.

Trailing 9-3, senior left-hander Jake Marshall took the mound in the bottom of the sixth to stop the bleeding. He retired the leadoff hitter on strikes before issuing walks to the next two. Those runners didn’t get far. Marshall picked off the first with a sharp throw to first baseman Connor Wilmsmeyer who applied the tag. He then picked off the next runner, who was tagged out on a rundown to end the inning.

New Franklin had one more chance to turn things around in the top of the seventh. Rhorer got things started with a one-out single on a line drive to left. With two outs, Clayton Wilmsmeyer walked in what would be his last at-bat in a Bulldogs uniform. Both runners advanced to scoring position on a passed ball by Salisbury reliever Ryan Binder. But both would be stranded on base when Hackman was thrown out on a ground ball to first base.

“I thought we did a good job offensively, getting the pitch count up and working,” Gerding said after the game. “We were a gapper away from putting up a crooked number and putting a little bit of fear into them. They did a good job of limiting the damage.”

New Franklin finished with three runs on seven hits with five walks and six strikeouts. Bishop had the only multi-hit game for the Bulldogs with two hits in four at-bats. Clayton Wilmsmeyer, Rhorer, Connor Wilmsmeyer, Hackman, and Eads had one hit apiece. Marshall and Eads combined for both of New Franklin’s RBI.

Clayton Wilmsmeyer delivered 74 pitches in three complete innings to start the game. He allowed four earned runs on six hits with three walks and four strikeouts. After a strong start, Rhorer gave up five runs (three earned) on four hits with two walks and two strikeouts in 1.2 innings of work. Marshall struck out two of four batters faced and picked off the other two.

The Salisbury lineup drove in nine runs on 10 hits with seven walks and eight strikeouts. The Panthers had three doubles on the night, one each by Wekenborg, Jackson, and Hamilton.

Five of Salisbury’s nine RBI came with two-strike counts.

“Offensively, they did a great job with two strikes,” Gerding said. “We just couldn’t put them away. We just didn’t execute enough on the mound.”

With the end of the season, New Franklin bids farewell to assistant coach Jim Triebsch, who has been with Gerding and the team for 15 years.

“We’re going to miss Coach Triebsch,” Gerding said. “A new assistant coach is a big deal.”

New Franklin loses seniors Clayton Wilmsmeyer, Eads, and Owen Armentrout to graduation but expects to return five juniors.

“It’s almost like starting over for us. We’ve got some good juniors coming back, but some of these younger guys have quite a bit of work to do,” Gerding said.

The Bulldogs open the fall season on August 26 and return to the spring season on March 18 at Fayette.

Salisbury moves on to the state sectionals against Eugene. A win would put the Panthers in the state quarterfinals, where they could face rival Harrisburg. The 18-8 Bulldogs face Putnam County (20-7) on Monday.


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