Twenty seven years ago, Nate Rankin and Todd Wetherald helped Columbus North win the regional baseball championship and advance to semistate.
The Bull Dogs didn’t win another regional until Saturday night, and this time, Rankin’s and Wetherald’s sons are key players. Seniors Wade Rankin and Nolan Wetherald helped North win its first regional since 1990 and advance to Saturday’s semistate at Plainfield.
“I hear stories from his dad and my dad, but really I didn’t realize until after we had won regional when my dad came up and told me that his was the last team to do it,” Nolan Wetherald said.
The Bull Dogs (17-12) will play Class 4A No. 2 Cathedral (27-0) at around 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Plainfield. The winner advances to the state title game June 16 or 17.
Taking similar paths
Like this North team, which struggled at times this season and was 12-12 going into the sectional, the 1990 team did, as well. That squad started 0-3-2 before recovering and catching fire in the postseason.
“They remind me a lot of our team,” Nate Rankin said. “We weren’t all that great record-wise going into the sectional, but we got hot at the right time. We weren’t a big offensive team, but we (had) good defense and good pitching.”
Nate Rankin was the right fielder on that team. Eric Stevens, the uncle of current Bull Dog backup outfielder Nicholas Stevens, was the center fielder. Chris Bodart, the brother of current assistant coach Mike Bodart, was the left fielder.
Mike DeArmitt played first base, Jason Gregory was at second and Tom McClintic was the third baseman. Todd Wetherald’s brother Curt played shortstop, and Todd backed up Grant Kleinhenz at catcher. Ryan Genth was the designated hitter and pitched, along with Wayne McGeorge and Chris Cole.
“We didn’t have a lot of power hitters, but we found ways to win baseball games,” Todd Wetherald said.
Todd Wetherald said that team had very strong pitching. He described the squad as gritty and scrappy.
Nate Rankin thinks this year’s team has those same characteristics.
“I’ve told (head coach) Ben (McDaniel) once or twice they’re a team that would rather punch you in the face than shake your hand,” he said. “They’re a scrappy little bunch. Stature-wise, they’re not a very big team. You take (pitchers/first basemen) Casper Clark and Kevin Thompson off the team, they’re all about 5-foot-8 and under. We were the same way.”
Chips off the blocks
In some ways, Wade Rankin and Nolan Wetherald are a lot like their fathers. The Wetheralds are most similar in that both are catchers.
Nolan Wetherald never took lessons from a catching coach. He just worked with his dad.
“The game of baseball has always been rooted in me ever since a young age,” Nolan Wetherald said. “All I remember is me and my dad going out to hit or him coaching me. My dad has taught me pretty much everything I know.”
Todd Wetherald, who graduated from North in 1992, played for two years at Wabash Valley Junior College in Mount Carmel, Illinois, then graduated from IUPUC. He now is a sixth-grade teacher at Smith Elementary.
Nolan Wetherald will continue his baseball career at Marietta (Ohio).
“We are very similar,” Todd Wetherld said. “We don’t strike out a lot, put the ball in play. Defensively, he’s improved so much behind the plate and being a leader on the field. That’s what I’m most proud about.”
Nate Rankin graduated from North in 1991 before going on to play for two years at Lincoln Trail (Illinois), which was in the same conference as Wabash Valley. He now works in Marketing CAD Drafting at Cummins.
Wade Rankin is headed to play baseball at Kankakee (Illinois) Community College.
“I think these guys are better than we were,” Nate Rankin said. “These guys have four or five pitchers that throw mid-80s. If we saw a couple guys like that a year, we were lucky.”
Nate Rankin thought the regional title drought might end a few years ago. His stepson Coledon Hoeltke was a junior second baseman on the 2012 team that was 24-2 and ranked No. 2 in the state going into the sectional finals, but fell to a Bloomington North team that the Bull Dogs had beaten in the regular season.
Columbus North had another strong team in 2013, Hoeltke’s senior year, but again lost in the sectional.
“I had two older brothers that played baseball, and it just ran in the family,” Wade Rankin said. “I fell in love with it at a young age and never really turned away from it.”
Going way back
The history with the Rankins and Wetheralds go back even farther than Nate and Todd.
Nate and Todd’s fathers, Kenny Rankin and Daryl Wetherald coached their sons in Ogilville in the county league starting in 1980. Nate and Todd played on the team that won the Babe Ruth state title in 1991.
About a decade later, they began coaching their sons when Wade and Nolan were 4 years old.
“Me and Nolan always joke about having kids at the same time and keep it running, having our kids grow up together, too,” Wade Rankin said. “It’s like a three-generation thing so far.”
What: Baseball semistate
Who: Columbus North (17-12) vs. Cathedral (27-0)
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Plainfield High School
Advancement: Winner will play for the Class 4A state championship June 16 or 17 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.