Facing the uphill climb that was four games in two days, the Cornerstone Insurance Seniors came out the other side unscathed and full of momentum as the season heads toward playoff time.
Columbus, facing a doubleheader on Saturday at Blair in a makeup of a rainout, then returned home on Sunday for another twin bill, this time with Lincoln Northeast.
Cornerstone swept Saturday 10-4 and 9-1 then was perfect on Sunday in finals of 5-4 and 6-3.
It took seven pitchers and two comebacks, but Columbus put together perhaps its finest weekend of the season, considering the circumstances, and has now won seven of the last eight games to improve to 19-13 on the season.
The weekend was marked by solid pitching that included wins for Cole Wilcox in a complete-game effort, Tyler Wessel in a mercy-rule-shortened complete-game win of his own, Kaden Young and Trey Kobza shutting the door in relief and Alex Ritzdorf allowing just one run in four innings to finish the weekend 4-0.
"It's always nice to get sweeps. We want to win every game we step on the field to play, and it's up to each individual player to be sure they're doing what they can do," coach Cody Schilling said. "You can always count on Alex or Connor or Cole or Tyler when they're on the mound, you're going to get their best effort."
SATURDAY, CORNERSTONE 10, BLAIR 4: Blair took a 2-0 lead with single runs in the first and second before Columbus scored all 10 runs combined in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth.
Cade Fullner drove in the first Cornerstone run with a bases-loaded walk in the third. Colby Gilson tied it 2-2 the next inning on a passed ball then Brent Beard gave Columbus the lead in the next at-bat on a sac fly to left.
Blair tied it in the bottom half but Sam Nelson's two-RBI singles in the fifth put Cornerstone ahead to stay. Wilcox started the sixth inning rally with an RBI single, two runs came in on an error and Tyler Palmer doubled in two more, stretching the advantage to 10-3.
Wilcox allowed nine hits and four earned runs while walking one and striking out six for the win. Palmer, Nelson and Tyler Wessel each had two hits.
"We just needed something to spark us. At the end of an inning, Tyler Wessel dives for a hard shot in the hole at first base, gets up and tosses to Cole covering. That just kind of turned the switch on," Schilling said. "That seems like when everything started clicking. It was like, 'All right, we're in a game. Let's go.'"
SATURDAY, CORNERSTONE 9, BLAIR 1: Wessel continued to make plays throughout the day. In game two it was from on the mound where he allowed four hits, no earned runs, walked two and struck out three.
Offensively, Trey Kobza was 2 for 3 with three runs driven in. Columbus scored three in the second, two in the fourth and four in the fifth to bring the eight-run mercy rule into play.
Blair managed its only run in the third and also committed three errors.
Gilson drove in the first run of the game with a grounder to third and runners at the corners. Palmer's single two hitters later made it 3-0.
Kobza singled in a run in the fourth to make it 4-1 followed by Fullner sending a grounder through the left side for another RBI.
Palmer's bases-loaded walk in the fifth increased the lead to 6-1, Kobza made it 8-1 on a two-RBI single to right and Fullner completed the scoring on a sac fly to right.
"Tyler Wessel had a really good day that day," Schilling said. "He had a couple of hits in the first game and pitched in game two, threw really well. He was definitely there to play and do what he's supposed to do. I thought he had a great day on Saturday."
SUNDAY, CORNERSTONE 5, LINCOLN NORTHEAST 4: Columbus trailed to start a game for the second day in a row, but after falling behind 3-0 through three and 1/2, Cornerstone answered back right away in the bottom half.
The Seniors fell behind again after a Northeast run in the fourth before scoring twice in the fifth to take the lead for good.
A Kobza single, Beard walk and Fullner walk gave Wilcox a bases loaded, none out opportunity. He remained as patient as his teammates and tied the game with a third straight walk. Young's sac fly two hitters later made it 5-4.
Young walked the bases loaded with two outs in the sixth but stranded the runners on an infield fly. Derek Smejkal closed it out with a 1-2-3 seventh.
"Again, we just needed something to turn the switch. It wasn't any particular play, we just needed something," Schilling said. "Connor wasn't quite as sharp as he likes to be. But he kept himself in the game and gave us a chance. He kept us there so we could come back."
SUNDAY, CORNERSTONE 6, LINCOLN NORTHEAST 3: Columbus never trailed in the final game of the weekend, scoring three right away in the first, two in the second and a final run in the third then riding the pitching arms of Ritzdorf, Kobza and Beard to the win.
Ritzdorf went four and walked four but allowed just two hits and one earned run while striking out two. Kobza tossed the fifth and the sixth with a lone hit and three Ks. Beard shut the door in the seventh with a hit and a strikeout.
Kobaz drove in Palmer from second for a 1-0 lead followed by a two-run home run by Fullner. Palmer made it 5-0 in the second on a two-out blast over the left field wall. Wessel completed the Columbus scoring with a sac fly and runners at second and third.
Northeast plated its only runs in the third on a two-run double then a two-out single.
"In a long weekend like that, four out of four is great, but three out of four I would have taken in a heartbeat," Schilling said. "For the kids to come out and grind out what they did Sunday after playing a doubleheader the day before, and being shorthanded all weekend, it makes me proud they came out and played as hard as they did and got the job done."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.