Wildcats win 4-3 in 13 innings, having won the longest OHSAA state baseball playoff game ever. Congrats to Hilliard Darby on a hard-fought game, in which both teams deserved to win.
Those tough sons of guns from Saint Ignatius did it again. The Cardiac Cats gutted out a 13 inning semifinal win over Hilliard Darby to advance to the state title game.
With the victory, the Wildcats are bound for the 2019 OHSAA Division I State Championship. The Baseball Cats have reached the title bout five times, last reaching the final game in 2013.
“Honestly, my mind is spinning a little bit,” Head Coach Brad Ganor said after the game. “I’m just excited, and a little hoarse from yelling. I’m really excited for the kids. They have a chance to win a state championship. We set a record, which isn’t really a record I wanted to be a part of, the longest State Semifinal game in OHSAA history. But to come out on top after that is huge. I’m so happy for these kids, the seniors and everyone on this team.”
The game started out well for the Panthers. Darby pitcher Connor Maruniak, a crafty southpaw, made quick work of the Wildcats in the first inning, forcing three fly ball outs.
The Panthers led off the bottom of the first inning with a single, and two stolen bases advanced Andrew Patrick to third base. Wildcat ace Andrew Mulhern retired the #2 hitter with a strikeout, but Mason Bowers lined a single to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead. Mulhern recovered with a strikeout and another out to conclude the first inning. The score after one:
Hilliard Darby 1, Saint Ignatius 0.
Despite allowing a walk, Maruniak only faced three Wildcat hitters after a strike ‘em out- throw ‘em out double play in the second. Mulhern struck out two Panthers in the bottom of the frame, yet the Panthers still led 1-0.
Maruniak struck out one batter and forced another 1-2-3 inning on the mound in the third.
A single and walk led to a sacrifice fly by Darby cleanup hitter Kyle Miller. Mulhern would limit the damage by the Panthers, but the Wildcats now trailed 2-0 heading to the top of the fourth inning.
Hilliard Darby 2, Saint Ignatius 0.
The Wildcats retook the lead in a critical fourth inning. Switch hitter AJ Gaich, hitting from the right side of the dish, lined a first pitch from Maruniak down the left field line. Using his tremendous speed, he slid safely into third base with a triple. Jack Whelan forced a seven-pitch at bat, but was sent down on a tough curveball. Michael McNamara walked on five pitches and then stole second base. Michael Holdsworth also saw four balls, which loaded the bases. Captain Austin Jones hit a single over the head of the third baseman, and Gaich and McNamara came around to score to tie up the game at two. Matt Geraci singled home Holdsworth, which gave the Cats a 3-2 lead in the top of the fourth.
Saint Ignatius 3, Hilliard Darby 2.
After a hit batter, Mulhern forced a Panther to ground into a 4-6-3 double play. A catcher’s interference and a walk gave the Panthers two on with two outs, and Coach Ganor called in Luke Lashutka from the bullpen, ending a quality start from Andrew Mulhern. Lashutka got the last hitter of the ending to ground out to AJ Gaich, preserving the 3-2 lead.
Seth Schmidt entered the game from the bullpen for the Panthers, and the young man pitched some outstanding ball. Schmidt would begin his first of nine innings in the fifth. Schmidt walked McNamara, but escaped the inning.
Lashutka, the 2016 Andrew Miller of this staff, struck out a Panther, and despite hitting a batter and allowing a single, battled back to hold the 3-2 lead entering the sixth inning.
Schmidt made 1-2-3 work of the Wildcats in the top of the sixth inning. Lashutka gave up a leadoff single but retired the following three betters, sending the Wildcats to the seventh and having secured a “hold.”
Schmidt again retired the first three batters he faced in the seventh inning.
Closer Matt Ferritto entered in the bottom of the seventh for the Wildcats. Two hard hit balls resulted in singles, and a walk loaded the bases. Ferritto threw a nice pitch inside which resulted in a 4-6-3 double play. The Panthers tied the game, but Ferritto escaped a bigger jam. Ferritto got the last hitter of the inning to strike out, surviving to fight another day.
Saint Ignatius 3, Hilliard Darby 3.
At that point, we entered extra innings.
Michael McNamara singled, but Schmidt would not let the Wildcats score in the top of the eighth. Ferritto would allow one walk, but struck out a batter and retired two others in the bottom of the eighth.
Matt Geraci doubled in the ninth, but once again the Panthers escaped without allowing a run.
Relief pitcher Nick Fletcher entered the game in the ninth inning. “Nick Fletcher Day” started with the junior retiring the Panthers 1-2-3.
Schmidt matched Fletcher’s ninth by starting the tenth inning by retiring three batters. A walk and a single did not deter Fletcher as McNamara made a great play to retire Darby to end the tenth.
Michael Holdsworth walked in the eleventh, but Schmidt and the Panthers would not let him off first base. Darby then had a great chance to score at the dish. Andrew Patrick walked to begin the bottom of the eleventh inning. Fletcher got the No. 2 hitter to pop out to him, but Patrick stole second base during the at-bat. The Cats elected to walk Mason Bowers to force a double-play situation. Kyle Miller singled into left field on a slow grounder, and Patrick rounded third and began to head for home, but was held up. A wide Wildcat throw sent Patrick dashing for home, but seeing the plate was well-covered by Fletcher, Patrick ran back to third. A bullet throw from Jones to McNamara erased the runner at third base.
A walk loaded the bags, but Fletcher’s 1-0 pitch became a flyout on a spectacular grab by Flynn Lenahan.
The Wildcats went 1-2-3 to Schmidt in the top of the twelfth. Fletcher struck out a batter, and Darby flew out twice to Lenahan to end the twelfth.
AJ Gaich singled up the middle to begin the thirteenth inning. After a flyout, a McNamara single put runners on the corners with one out. McNamara stole the wide open second base. Michael Holdsworth hit a fly ball to center field, which scored Gaich, giving the Wildcats their first lead since the seventh inning. After the final out, Fletcher returned to the mound to face the heart of the Panthers’ order.
The first batter of the inning popped out to Connor Mays. Fletcher struck out the second hitter of the inning on a full count. An 0-1 pop fly to center fielder Erik Daugenti sealed the deal, and the Blue & Gold erupted with joy.
The final score: Saint Ignatius 4, Hilliard Darby 3.
“I wasn’t expecting to pitch today, but I was pumped to have the chance,” Fletcher said. “You always have to be ready to throw. I was happy to throw. Fastballs in the zone [were working]. I tried to make them beat me and not give up a lot of walks, with balls aways and preventing steals. I’m confident I can throw strikes, I just have to go up there and do it. You just have to stay calm and throw the ball.”
“Fletcher is a bulldog,” Ganor added. “We didn’t want to have to do that, but you have to find a way to win today to get to the next one. He was fantastic. The seniors were awesome. AJ Gaich and Michael Holdsworth. It was perfect that AJ got the hit and Holdsworth knocked him in. That’s the mark of this team. They’re so resilient. We’ve been through a lot this year and played a really tough schedule. I think it’s paying off for us.”
The Wildcats survived and advanced to this Sunday’s State Championship Game at 10 am versus Mentor High School. The game will be at Canal Park.
The SIBN will have the call of the game, audio-only as per OHSAA rules. Tickets for Saturday's game are available online here.