2023 OHSAA Tournament: Division I State Final - No. 1 Moeller vs No. 25 Olentangy Orange

Bruce Hefflinger
PBR Ohio Senior Writer

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2023 OHSAA Tournament: Division I State Final - No. 1 Moeller vs No. 25 Olentangy Orange

AKRON - Moeller came into the season as the team to beat in Ohio in the eyes of many. The Crusaders lived up to those expectations in a big way with a Division I state championship on Saturday, beating Olentangy Orange 4-1.

“It took a couple of rough innings early in the season,” head coach TIm Held said in a quick reflection on the 31-3 campaign. “We lost two games in Vegas and came home to lose a game to Elder. But that helped us win 27, 28, 29 games. That helped us win this state title.”

Zion Theophilus played his part in helping the Crusaders to the ninth state championship in school history with a six-hit performance against Orange to close out a 7-0 sophomore campaign.

“He just pounds the zone,” Held said of the LSU commit. “He’s going to give up a few hits because he throws so many balls over the plate, but he’s going to challenge guys. We know he’s going to give up hits but it’s really tough getting two, three, four hits off of him.”

Orange managed just a fourth-inning run off of Theophilus on back-to-back singles by Diego Astacio and Tyler Fuller and an RBI groundout from Keegan Knupp. But by then Moeller had scored two with the help of Orange miscues.

CJ Richard reached on an error to open the Moeller first and, after a Toby Hueber single, eventually came home on an errant throw when Hueber was caught between first and second.

The Crusaders made it 2-0 in the third when the ball got away on a Hueber steal of third following singles by Richard and Nate Manley that were sandwiched around a Hueber fielder’s choice.

“The whole team has to step up, I was just doing my part,” Hueber explained. “I guess in doing my part and everyone else doing their part we were able to step up as a team and win a state championship.”

After Orange cut the lead to 2-1, Moeller put two runs across in the fifth. Hueber led off the frame with a double and Clay Burdette and Connor Christenson each had RBI singles in an inning in which the top-rated team in the state had three of their six stolen bases in the game.

“That’s our whole motto,” Held said of creating havoc on the basepaths. “We set a school record for stolen bases this year, that’s a big part of our game. That helped us get those early runs and we were able to take pressure off of Zion.”

Theophilus retired six of the final seven batters he faced after the Crusaders extended the lead to 4-1, finishing the game with a strikeout, his seventh in the contest.

“I think I fell to my knees after that,” Theophilus reflected. “The bottom of that pile isn’t for everyone.”

Theophilus was just happy to do his part for a team that starts eight seniors.

“I've got to be honest, I was nervous at the beginning,” Theophilus admitted. “But these guys had my backs. I love each and everyone of these guys.”

Manley, the senior catcher headed to Wright State, said Theophilus had it going from the start.

“He has like a gyro-slider type of thing that was working and he threw that a lot,” Manley noted. “Obviously his fastball for being 16-years-old to be able to throw it 91-92 is impressive. He had everything working today.” 

Richard, Hueber and Connor Christenson all had two hits for Moeller with Manley and Burdette producing one apiece.

“We have been waiting for this for a long time,” explained Manley, a senior catcher headed to Wright State. “Freshman year we were telling people we were going to do it, that this class was going to be the one. Last year we came up short, but this is a great way to cap it off.”

Held saw it coming with his squad.

“It’s such a talented group,” Held said. “They’re a confident and veteran group. They’re going to find a way to win.”

Astacio had a pair of hits for Orange, which received a strong outing on the mound from Jacob Tabor in a losing cause.

“Moeller is really, really good and we knew it would be a tough go,” related Orange head coach Tom Marker, whose Pioneers closed out the season at 23-11. “We weren’t that overmatched and we responded well, we just ran into a great team today.”


PLAYER OF THE GAME: Theophilus is the choice with a complete game against a team that had scored at least seven runs in every tournament game prior to the state tourney. The hard-throwing right-hander fanned seven and walked just one in his six-hit performance, throwing 60 of 88 pitches for strikes.

D-I TOURNEY MVP: Hueber was the winning pitcher in the 2-0 win over Walsh Jesuit in the semifinals while also driving in one run. Playing left field in the finals, the George Mason signee hit a single and double, scored two runs and stole two bases in putting on a great show to open Saturday’s day of four state title games. Hueber set the school record with 55 steals on the season.

TOO MANY MISTAKES: The role of being an underdog often means the need to play your best game. That was not the case for Orange which committed four errors in the contest, the first leading to an unearned run that put Moeller on top to stay in the opening inning. 

“We just wanted to put ourselves in a situation we could keep the game close and give ourselves a chance to win,” Marker said. “Obviously we didn’t play a clean game and that team will make you pay for any kind of mistake.”

FIRST BATTER: The leadoff hitter of an inning is always huge and it was certainly the case on Saturday. Get on and force the pitcher to throw out of the stretch, put pressure on the defense, play small ball, run the bases. So many things can happen. Moeller did just that with the first batter getting on base in four of the six innings the Crusaders batted. In three of those, Moeller scored at least one run. In contrast, Orange put the first batter on base just twice, one of those being the lone run of the game for the 25th-ranked team in the state in D-I. 

WHAT’S NEXT?: There were 16 seniors on the Orange roster. Third baseman Knupp and catcher Casey Covert are the lone full-time starters returning for Marker, who will likely hit the 300-win mark in his coaching career in 2024. … Only two underclassmen for Moeller played in the two state tournament games. But it’s Moeller. Pitchers going to LSU and Notre Dame return. There are no concerns about the future of baseball at a school that has been to the state tournament 13 times, including 10 this decade. It is always bright. 


Olentangy Orange      000  100  0   -  1  6  4

Moeller                        101   020  x  -   4  8  0

Records: Moeller 31-3, Olentangy Orange 23-11.

Winning Pitcher: Zion Theophilus (7 innings, 1 run, 6 hits, 7 strikeouts, 1 walk).

Losing Pitcher: Jacob Tabor (6 innings, 4 runs, 3 earned runs, 8 hits, 3 strikeouts, 1 walk).

Leading Hitters: (Olentangy Orange) - Charlie Scholvin single; Cole Cahill single; Diego Astacio 2 singles, run; Tyler Fuller single; Keegan Knupp single, RBI. (Moeller) - CJ Richard 2 singles, run; Toby Hueber single, double, 2 runs; Nathan Manley single; Clay Burdette single, run, RBI; Connor Christenson 2 singles, RBI.

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