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West Branch upsets Hamilton Badin, wins 1st baseball state championship in school history

Staff photo / Preston Byers West Branch’s baseball team poses with the OHSAA Division II baseball state championship trophy after the Warriors’ 3-2 victory against Hamilton Badin on Sunday at Canal Park in Akron.

AKRON — Rick Mulinix spent a decade thinking — dreaming — of this moment.

Before his West Branch Warriors took the Canal Park field for their Division II baseball state championship game against Hamilton Badin Sunday morning, Mulinix delivered the pre-game speech he had hoped he could when he first began coaching many of the same faces 10 years earlier.

“‘Next year is their year,'” Mulinix recalled telling his team. “‘This year is our year. Go get it.'”

And they did.

Despite committing seemingly crucial mistakes, being stifled offensively and falling behind to a team that had not allowed a single run throughout the playoffs, West Branch completed a magical season by defeating Badin 3-2 in Akron to capture the first state championship in program history.

After being held hitless until the sixth inning and allowing Badin to extend its lead, the Warriors scored each of their three runs in the top of the seventh.

Charlie Biskup kicked off the inning with a single through the right side of the infield before Jaxon Robb drew a walk. Recognizing the potential scoring opportunity, Gavin Bell laid down a sacrifice bunt that advanced Robb and Biskup to second and third base, respectively.

Boston Mulinix, the junior shortstop and son of West Branch’s head coach, then came to the plate hoping to redeem himself after committing a costly error just moments earlier. During the bottom of the sixth, Mulinix failed to cleanly field a ground ball hit to him, which allowed a Badin runner to scurry home from third base for the Rams’ second run.

Staff photo / Preston Byers West Branch’s Boston Mulinix (right) and Anthony Perry (left) embrace after the Warriors’ Division II baseball state championship victory against Hamilton Badin on Sunday in Akron.

“With two outs, I was hoping for him to hit a ground ball,” Boston Mulinix said. “Errors are part of the game — that just happens. But in the back of my mind, I’m just thinking, ‘I really hope we can get some runs across so that it doesn’t hurt us.'”

Boston Mulinix did his part at the plate; the Warriors’ leadoff batter lightly smacked a pitch to the right side of the infield, where Badin first baseman Eli Wolpert fielded it. Taking advantage of a potential miscommunication between Wolpert and two more Badin players, Mulinix raced to first, reaching base safely while driving in Biskup for the first postseason run against Badin, which had outscored its playoff opponents 55-0 entering Sunday.

Once the scoring started, though, Badin couldn’t easily stop it. In the next at-bat, Aaron Tucker grounded out to second base, which gave Robb enough time to score the tying run.

Hunter Shields then came to the plate.

Back in the top of the sixth inning, after he had been hit by a pitch, Shields advanced to second base when Beau Alazaus broke up Badin pitcher Beau Chaney’s no-hitter. Trying to be aggressive and potentially take third base on the single to left field, however, Shields rounded second and traveled a little too far and was tagged out sliding back into second base.

“Immediately after, I was a little down, I’m not going to lie,” Shields said. “I knew I made a mistake and came back in the dugout and kind of sat there by myself with my head down. And then everyone started coming over and talking to me. They were like, ‘We got your back.’ I trusted them the whole way. I knew they were going to pick me up.”

Staff photo / Preston Byers West Branch catcher Hunter Shields points to his ring finger amid a celebration of the Warriors’ Division II baseball state championship victory against Hamilton Badin in Akron on Sunday.

During Shields’ at-bat in the top of the seventh, a pitch by Badin closer Tyler Verdin slipped past catcher Jermiah Carmella. Moments before the fateful pitch, Rick Mulinix gave his son, who was standing on third base just feet from him, the same advice he had given him before the seventh inning: “Be ready.”

Boston was. As the ball skipped to the backstop, the junior shortstop sprinted home and stomped on home plate for the go-ahead run.

After Shields flew out for the final out of the top of the seventh, all of the attention turned to Warriors starter Anthony Perry and the West Branch defense. Perry, who had grinded through several innings, neared the 100-pitch mark before taking the mound for the bottom of the seventh. Perry had even made a big mistake of his own; the senior pitcher balked in the fourth inning, setting the stage for a sacrifice fly that scored Badin its first run.

“It happens,” West Branch pitching coach Shawn Alazaus said of the balk. “And as I’ve told him all season, as long as we only give up one, we’re good. Eventually our offense is gonna pull through for us. They waited ’till the seventh, but they did.”

Perry sat down the first two batters of the bottom of the seventh with fly outs before surrendering a hard-hit double that bounced off of the right-field wall, which brought Austin Buckle, the potential game-winning run, up to the plate with the momentum seemingly beginning to shift to Badin.

But just as Mulinix had said, this year was West Branch’s year. On the second pitch of the at-bat, Buckle popped the ball up into shallow foul territory, allowing Tucker to move under it and secure the final out of the Warriors’ championship season.

A celebration of a decade-long journey began immediately, with West Branch players and coaches flooding the field, hugging each other and shedding more than a few tears. The emotions of the Warriors’ triumph was anything but simple, though.

The championship trophy and the medals the team were awarded signify a title-winning season, the first in school history. But it’s obvious that it means much more than that to West Branch’s core, which got its start together when the boys were 8- and 9-year-old children and many of the coaches were simply just fathers teaching their sons baseball.

“During the game, I don’t have the time to have a lot of emotions,” Rick Mulinix said after the victory. “I’ll be honest with you, my emotions are whenever I’m by myself in my truck, and I’m thinking about stuff. It’ll probably happen again when I’m driving home tonight.

“You can think about things and wish things will happen — and seldom do they come true. But I feel like we tried to write this book 10 years ago, all the way through, and bam, here it is. It happened.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Preston Byers by email at pbyers@tribtoday.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @PresByers.

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