Every game, it's a new hero.
In the District Semifinal, Nick Fletcher's gem of a pitching effort and Matt Geraci's single did the job. In the District Final, Flynn Lenahan offered a dramatic walk-off win.
In the Regional Semifinal, Andrew Mulhern supplied six strong innings and Connor Mays delivered the game-winning hit to play the hero.
One run proved enough to advance the Wildcats to the Regional Final, as the Saint Ignatius baseball team squeezed past the Amherst Steele Comets, 1-0, on Thursday night at Tri-C West's Ron Mottl Field.
Originally scheduled for 5 pm, a strong thunderstorm pushed back the start time to 7 pm. A soaked outfield forced first pitch back another half-hour to 7:30 pm. The delay did not seem to affect either team, as both the Wildcats and Comets came out swinging.
The Wildcats, the visiting team, managed two baserunners in the top of the first. Jack Whelan reached on a walk and Michael McNamara singled, and later advanced to second and third on a wild pitch. But the Comets escaped the jam on a groundout.
With the sun shining bright, the outlook looked rosy for the Cats in the second inning. The men of Ohio City loaded the bases with two outs, thanks to Matt Geraci and AJ Gaich walks, along with a Connor Mays single. But again, Amherst coaxed an out to emerge unscathed.
Mulhern faced down trouble in the second frame, too. Back-to-back walks and wild pitch to start the inning looked troublesome. A groundout eased the pressure, and a pickoff play by Austin Jones getting the runner at third turned the momentum. After a hit by pitch, Mulhern drew a ground ball to get out the situation.
The fourth inning proved to be the decisive inning. Geraci blasted a 1-out double to left field to set the stage for Mays. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Mays lofted a liner to center. Geraci galloped around third and slid in safely at the plate, striking first blood. The Comets got two outs to limit the damage, but it was enough.
"Connor stayed within himself with a nice, simple low liner. It got the job done," Head Coach Brad Ganor said. "Matt getting the double was huge. Being aggressive on the bases is important, too. It's great when guys step up when they have opportunities to produce. Connor got the job done. I was very happy for him."
After allowing a leadoff single in the bottom of the frame, Mulhern struck out two and got a flyout. Each team went in order in the fifth and tallied a baserunner in the sixth. But neither team could score in the penultimate inning.
After the Comets struck out the side in the seventh, Mulhern took the mound for the bottom of the frame, a nailbiter to say the least.
On a 2-2 count, Mulhern hit the first hitter with a pitch in the seventh. The throw ended an incredible day for the seniors. His stat line stood proudly as such: 6 innings pitched, 2 hits, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts.
"After the District, everyone was like, 'What happened?' But it was just one of those days. Baseball is a funny, tough game. I didn't have any doubt he would bounce back and pitch a great game," Ganor said. "He was fantastic. He had everything working. He had his mindset right, he was dialed in."
In stepped Matt Ferritto to close the door. A well-executed sacrifice bunt advanced the runner to second, and then a wild pitch sent him to third. Another hit by pitch set runners at the corners. In a delicate situation, with a capacity crowd holding its breath, Ferritto forced a shallow popout.
With two outs and two on, Ferritto sent in a perfect toss on the second pitch of the decisive at-bat. The Comet hitter managed to hit it into the outfield, but Jack Whelan played the ball perfectly and secured the out.
Ballgame. The fans went crazy as the Wildcats advanced to the Regional Final.
"It's easier said than done," Ganor said. "Everybody has a tendency to look at brackets and say what if and think of what could be. I've been beating the drum of winning four tournaments. We won two – Sectionals and Districts. We're going to try to win the third tournament today. We'll worry about the fourth tournament next week. Until you win the Regional, you can't win the State. We talked about winning seven games, and you can't win the seventh game until you win the first game and so on. That's been a constant conversation with the team."
With the win, the Wildcats have no time to rest. Sylvania Southview will make the 2-hour trip to Tri-C West's Mottl Field on Friday for a 5 pm start. The winner advances to the State Semifinal next Friday at the home of the Akron Rubberducks.
As advance scout Jeff Chonko '17 has told the team, the Cougars are a stout team and will pose a good challenge for the Wildcats. Southview pitched its ace in defeating Whitehouse Anthony Wayne yesterday in the Regional Semifinal, 7-2.
Jack O'Rourke and Pat Keane will have the call on the SIBN, audio-only per OHSAA rules.
Also, before the game, the Saint Ignatius baseball parents will be hosting a pre-game party at the Eastland Inn from 2:30-4:30 pm. All fans are welcome and encouraged to stop by and show their support in getting the Wildcats to the State Tournament.