Baseball: Echols twirls gem in win over Defiance

May 6—DEFIANCE — The race for the WBL crown is officially a tight one, and it'll come down to the last week of the regular season.

In an old-fashioned pitchers duel on Monday night at Defiance High School, Wapakoneta's Taylor Echols threw a two-hit shutout and Defiance's Brezlyn Zipfel nearly matched that effort, but allowed the game's only run in the third inning, leading to a 1-0 Redskin victory.

Defiance (14-4, 7-1 WBL) and Wapakoneta (11-5, 6-1 WBL) are now separated by a half-game in the WBL standings, meaning both teams control their own destiny.

For these two teams, close matchups have become somewhat of a tradition. As a starting pitcher, Echols has played a huge part in that the last two years, getting the win on Monday night and throwing an eight-inning no-hitter against the Bulldogs last season.

"The last three years, this game has been just as close as it was today," said Wapakoneta coach Jason Brandt. "I'd like to think that we play our best against them and they play their best against us. When you have two good teams with good pitchers, you have to come out ready to play."

Brandt went on to say that he's seen a shift in intensity since his team's 4-0 loss against top-ranked Jonathan Alder this past Saturday. That game was also played in Defiance.

"We really battled against them," Brandt said of Jonathan Alder. "Then we come out here today against a pitcher like Zipfel who can throw three pitches for strikes at any time. There was little margin for error on either side. We strung enough hits together to get a run in the third, then hats off to Taylor. That was a heck of a game that he threw today."

Echols, a Miami (OH) University commit, was absolutely brilliant on the mound. He struck out 14 of the 29 batters he faced, and in an arsenal that includes a fastball in the low 90's, a changeup and a slider, he threw 68 of his 116 pitches for strikes.

"I felt really good with my stuff today and obviously, when you're playing a team like this that's always nice," said Echols. "I thought I had my best stuff throughout the whole game. My slider was definitely my go-to tonight. My changeup wasn't really working, but my fastball was up there too."

"He had three pitches working for strikes," Brandt said of his ace. "There were times where his pitches were so good that he made some good hitters look really bad."

For Echols, the final out of the game was the one he had to work the hardest for. After striking out Cody Shaw and Brezlyn Zipfel on seven pitches to start the seventh, an error, a walk and a dropped third strike loaded the bases, giving Torin Long a chance to tie, or even win the game.

Long saw nothing but strikes during his at-bat before hitting a ground ball to shortstop Drew Bailey who stepped on second to end the game.

Wapakoneta scored the game's lone run in the third inning on an RBI single from Zac Niekamp. It was one of just four hits given up by Zipfel despite a strong complete-game effort. Niekamp is batting in the two-hole, filling in for the injured Grant Jolly who has missed the last eight games.

"Zac is a great example of work ethic," Brandt said. "He was WBL Player of the Year in golf, then he was limited during basketball season due to an injury. He's come out from day one and done the little things for us. His batting average may not be the highest, but he comes through when we need it and that's what you want out of a senior."

Wapakoneta still has WBL games against Van Wert on Wednesday and Shawnee on Monday, while Defiance concludes its league schedule on Wednesday against Celina.

Box score (r-h-e)

Wapakoneta 0010000 1-4-1

Defiance 0000000 0-2-0

Wapakoneta 1 (ab-r-h-rbi)

Taylor Echols 3-0-1-0, Zac Niekamp 3-0-1-1, Ryan Price 2-0-0-0, Kaden Moore 3-0-1-0, Drew Bailey 2-0-0-0, Alex Lewis 3-0-0-0, Mason Ludwig 2-0-0-0, Zach Fisher 3-0-0-0, Jarrett Mullen 3-1-1-0, Totals: 24-1-4-1.

Defiance 0 (ab-r-h-rbi)

Brady Borton 3-0-0-0, Torin Long 3-0-1-0, Noah Gomez 2-0-0-0, Garret Rodenberger 3-0-0-0, Kahlil Ligon 2-0-0-0, Cody Shaw 2-0-0-0, Brezlyn Zipfel 2-0-1-0, Tyson Williamson 2-0-0-0, Cohen Stockman 2-0-0-0, Totals: 22-0-2-0

Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so)

Taylor Echols (W) 7.0-2-0-0-4-14

Brezlyn Zipfel (L) 7.0-4-1-1-1-7