The start of the season has provided plenty of challenges for the Wildcats.
The Saint Ignatius varsity baseball team played four quality opponents in Florida, including two of the top 25 teams in the country. The Wildcats' fifth foe of the 2019 season was a perennial powerhouse program with a 2016 state title in its back pocket.
On a chilly Tuesday afternoon in Massillon, the Wildcats met the challenge well, beating the Polar Bears in extra innings, 4-2.
Michael Holdsworth provided the heroics in the ninth inning. The senior approached the plate with 1 out and the bases juiced, thanks to a Nick Fletcher single and walks by Matt Ferrito and AJ Gaich. Holdsworth snuck out groundball single to right field, scoring Fletcher for the game-winning run.
“We didn’t play them last year, but the year before they came to our place and beat us,” Holdsworth told the Canton Rep after the game. “That left a bad taste in our mouth. They’re a very respectable team. They’re obviously very talented. Very good. Hat’s off to them, they battled the entire game, but this year we have a mission and that’s to win states. We’re here because we want to prove a point. We feel that people have looked past us for numerous years now. This year we know that it’s the year we can do it.”
As Holdsworth alluded to, the Wildcats have a chip on their shoulder. That's fine by Head Coach Brad Ganor.
"Our guys have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. There are publications out there that haven't thrown a lot of respect their way yet," Ganor explained. "But respect comes with winning, and they're taking care of business right now."
Indeed, the Wildcats are winning, improving to 3-2 on the year while breaking Jackson's unbeaten record. Thus far this season, the winning combination has been stout pitching and opportunistic hitting.
Andrew Mulhern supplied six strong innings for the Wildcats. The senior allowed two runs on two hits in the first, but was dynamite the rest of the way. The 6'1 righty surrendered just 2 hits in the next five innings, fanning five batters.
"It was shaky in the first inning, but Andrew settled in nicely and kept them off-balance, which is what he's best at," Ganor said. "He gave us six strong innings, which was huge."
Feeding off of Mulhern's strong pitching, the Wildcats' offense came to life in the fourth inning.
Holdsworth started the fun with a single to right, followed by a Michael McNamara walk. After a sac bunt and a strikeout, Flynn Lenahan came to the plate with two men in scoring position with two outs. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, the senior roped a double to right. Lenahan's shot scored Holdsworth and McNamara to knot the contest at two.
"Flynn Lenahan had a huge 2-out hit to tie the game and get some momentum going for us. We weren't getting too many quality at-bats early in the game, but we had some guys on and he came up with a big hit," Ganor said.
The pitching staffs bore down after the quick outburst by the Wildcats. Mulhern exited the game after six strong frames, giving way to Matt Ferrito. The 6'0 right-hander provided two stellar innings, striking out two and allowing just one hit.
In the ninth, the Wildcats took the lead with Holdsworth providing the clutch single. Jones added an insurance run by patiently drawing a bases-loaded walk.
"Michael Holdsworth hitting the game-winner late in the game was huge. There are a lot of expectations when you're a big-time recruit," Ganor said. "So far, he's living up to those expectations."
In the bottom of the ninth, Luke Lashutka played the role of Bob Wickman. The righty reliever allowed one hit before blowing out the hopes of a Polar Bears comeback. Lashutka lit the scoreboard with two swinging strikeouts to slam the door shut.
"We always seem to play them in a 1-run game," Ganor said. "They're always well-coached and have a lot of talent. It's a great early season win. We could have lost in extras, 3-2, and said, 'OK, we played well, whatever.' But to come away with the win is big."
The Baseball Cats will not dwell on the win for too long – the Wildcats will be back on the diamond on Friday, hosting Massillon Washington. Baldwin Wallace will host the Wildcats again on Saturday for a 3 pm showdown with Brunswick.
Meanwhile, the JV Cats fell to Jackson at home at BW, 4-2. The Wildcats outhit the Polar Bears, 9-3, but the visitors took advantage of errors in the field and tallied four unearned runs. Noah Brazytis led the way for the offense with two hits and a walk, and Gip Conroy knocked a triple to right in the fourth. Jacob Rocky took the loss despite a solid 4 innings of work.
The JV Cats, now 1-1 on the year, face Massillon Washington on the road on Friday.