CLEVELAND, Oh - On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, the Saint Ignatius Baseball Wildcats embarked on their District Semifinal matchup as they seek the program's third state championship. Their opponent was the Medina Highland Hornets, a good team led by their starting pitcher Maxwell Wagar who was coming off a complete game shutout in his last outing. The Wildcats had their answer on the bump as senior Liam Baker had the game of his life when the team needed it.
Baker started strong against the top three, striking out the side in a highly dominating fashion, setting the tone that carried all seven innings. Wagar ran into some trouble in the first inning, walking Max Palinski and hitting Pauly Mancino, but induced a Sawyer Solitaria flyout to settle down.
The next batter up, Sam Meyer worked the count full and laced a double to center field on the eight-pitch, allowing both runners to score and giving the Cats the early lead they needed. Meyer took third on the first pitch of the next at-bat and galloped home on the next offering due to a wild pitch, putting on a baserunning clinic and tacking one more run on.
Baker got into some trouble in the top of the second inning when Logan Marquis hit an opposite-field single to lead off the inning. Quinn Marquis (no relation to Logan) drove a ground ball over the third base bag putting runners on the corners. Baker forced a lineout to Meyer in right field to escape the inning.
Wagar hit the second Saint Ignatius batter of the day and Max Palinski followed that up with a two-out single. Wagar fought out of the inning, however, making Mancino ground out. Baker continued his dominance, only allowing a single in the third.
Again, Wagar plunked a Wildcat, hitting Solitaria on the first pitch before Meyer smashed his second double of the afternoon, putting men in scoring positions. Pfaff hit a soft liner which the third baseman caught and stepped on the bag to double up Solitaria and Wagar popped Nick Frontino up to end the frame, still 3-0 Saint Ignatius.
Baker and Wagar went three up, three down in inning number four, as the pitchers' duel between the two senior right-handed pitchers enhanced. Baker was firing on all cylinders in this outing, hitting 86 MPH on the gun, which is higher than his season average.
The Cats made Wagar sweat in the fifth, as Mancino walked and Solitaria blooped a single between the right fielder and first baseman, but Pfaff popped up to end the threat. Baker allowed a one-out walk, his first of the day in the sixth inning, but bounced back with two punchouts to fire the Saint Ignatius faithful up.
Despite a two-out single by Wildcat backstop Dylan Murphy, no insurance runs were added in the bottom of the sixth. Baker, on 79 pitches for the day, came out to close the game in the seventh. He did just that, with the first two hitters grounding out and Quinn Marquis striking out to end the game and solidify a spot in the District Championship on Thursday.
Baker matched a career-high in strikeouts with 12, a number he set in the District Semifinal a season ago against Shaker Heights. The Wildcats will host Wooster in the District Final on Thursday, May 25, at 5 p.m. from Brookside Reservation.
The Cats saw the Generals in a preseason scrimmage on March 22, where the Wildcats won 10-3. The winner will advance to the Regional Semifinal and play the winner of Brunswick/Medina on Thursday, June 1, at 5 p.m. at Gilmour Academy.