Survive and Advance.
The Saint Ignatius varsity baseball team mustered a comeback 3-2 win over the North Royalton Bears to become the 2019 Baldwin Wallace District Champions.
Andrew Mulhern started the top of the first inning on a great note, as a Jack Whelan catch and a 1-6-3 double play retired the Bears. AJ Gaich led off the bottom half of the first inning with a double to left-center field, putting the Wildcats in scoring position from the get-go.
Jack Whelan bunted a ball down the third base line that advanced Gaich to third, setting up senior Michael Holdsworth. The captain hit a deep sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Gaich, giving the Blue and Gold an early 1-0 lead.
Mulhern cruised through the top of the second inning, getting a strikeout and groundout, before a Whelan diving catch ended the inning.
Austin Jones singled and Matt Geraci walked, but the Wildcats could not add onto their lead, as the Bears’ Joe McVicar stood strong on the mound.
After a hit batter and a walk, the Bears threatened to score in the top of the third. With runners on second and third base, Brandon Bielak hit a hard ground ball, which hit the second base runner. The play was ruled dead once the runner was hit, so with one out the Bears had runners on first and third base. A runner would score on a passed ball, but Mulhern escaped the jam with the score tied at one apiece.
Gaich and Whelan singled in the bottom of the third, but McVicar once again held the Wildcats to zero runs.
A hit batter and an RBI single gave the Bears a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth inning, but junior Luke Lashutka entered the game and held the Bears to a one run inning. Lashutka’s 2.2 innings pitched were a major factor in the Wildcat win.
Austin Jones singled to lead off the bottom half of the fourth, but was out at second on a Matt Geraci fielder’s choice. Geraci stole a bag to enter scoring position. After a pop out, Erik Daugenti came to the dish. Daugenti hit a hard ball to the second baseman and his speed forced a quick throw to first base, which sailed wide and towards the Bears’ bullpen. Geraci’s heads-up baserunning resulted in him scoring, and the game was even at two.
After a leadoff walk, Lashutka dominated the Bears in the top of the fifth, including two strikeouts. Michael Holdsworth would single in the bottom of the frame, but the score remained 2-2.
In the top of the sixth, Lashutka allowed a single but struck out two more, continuing his great performance on the mound. Connor Mays singled in the bottom of the sixth, but the game was destined for a decisive final ending.
Lashutka gave up a leadoff walk and was pulled in favor of senior Matt Ferritto. Lashutka’s dominance throughout the middle of the contest kept the Wildcats in the game, and will be a performance that Saint Bonaventure will see double of for years to come.
After a sacrifice bunt moved the Bears’ runner into scoring position, Ferritto forced the next two batters to ground out and sent the Wildcats to the bottom of the seventh.
Gaich led off the seventh with a single, but was thrown out attempting to steal second on a pitchout. Whelan forced his way on after a five-pitch walk.
“I was just trying to find a way to get on base,” said Whelan. “Base runners are at a premium at this point in the season, and after AJ was thrown out I needed to pick him up. That’s what this team does, we pick each other up.”
After the second out of the inning, Whelan remained on first, and Michael McNamara was up to bat. On a full count, McNamara forced a crucial walk, which moved Whelan into scoring position. Next up was senior Flynn Lenahan, wearing #34 in honor of Mr. Jim Skerl ‘74.
Lenahan, the left-handed-batting DH, faced what was to be the biggest at bat of his career. Lenahan took the first pitch for a ball, before fouling off the second pitch. Lenahan took two more balls, and a 3-1 count was set up.
Lenahan hit a high fly ball to right field, which at first seemed as if it would be the last out of the inning. Lenahan’s ball kept on travelling, though, for what seemed like an eternity. Seniors AJ Gaich, Michael Holdsworth, and Matt Geraci were willing the ball, Carlton Fisk-style, to keep on travelling. Despite being half their height, young Luke Ganor was jumping and motioning as well. The back-pedalling outfielder could not grab it, and as the ball dribbled onto the green of the outfield, the Wildcat bench went into a frenzy. Whelan had two triumphant arms in the air as he crossed home plate, and Lenahan was mobbed in left field.
The Saint Ignatius Wildcats were District Champions.
“I’m excited, happy, thrilled,” said Head Coach Brad Ganor after the game. “I’m proud of the team. Different guys have come up big all season, and that was Flynn’s chance. He made it happen. Figuring a way to get guys when AJ got thrown out was big. It was a shock – AJ doesn’t get thrown out very often. Jack got the walk and McNamara worked the two-out walk to get the guy into scoring position. I think Rory Fitz said it well – I think Jim Skerl might have had something to do with it.
“I’m not surprised our guys produced today. Our seniors have been like glue. They’re so close. The whole game, they’re pulling for each other and trying to find ways to get the job done. A different guy is a hero everyday. Nick Fletcher was the hero the other today. Today, it was Flynn Lenahan. Luke Lashutka gave us a chance to stay in the game, and Matt Ferritto shut the door. It takes a team. You can’t do it all on your own. They did it. I’m very proud of the boys and I’m looking forward to the next game.
The Wildcats advance to face Amherst Steele in the Regional Semi-Final at Tri-C West next Thursday. The game will be played at 5 o’clock.
The SIBN will have full coverage of the contest, as Pat Keane will join me for the call.
Congratulations to Coach Ganor, his coaches, and his team on a historic win.