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Another Late Inning Rally Keeps the Wildcat Season Alive

By Eli Maistros '24, 05/22/24, 10:45AM EDT


Tied at 3 heading into the seventh, the Wildcats score three to advance to the District Final.

CLEVELAND, OH - In a highly anticipated playoff showdown in front of a packed and rowdy crowd at Brookside Reservation, the Saint Ignatius Wildcats and the Westlake Demons went toe-to-toe for seven fun, competitive innings. In the early summer heat, the programs battled for a spot in the District Final and the chance to keep their seasons alive. 

Although at the Wildcats' home field, the Demons were the higher seed and home team, meaning Ashland commit Chris Protos took the mound first for Westlake. Protos, who spun his fastball up to 92 MPH on the evening, walked two batters in the first, but a well-timed double play helped him hang a zero on the scoreboard. 

It was a battle of aces, as Head Baseball Coach Brad Ganor gave the ball to Kent State commit Sawyer Solitaria, marking his first start since April 27 and second appearance since then. The first two Demons reached on Wildcat errors, but they got greedy and paid the price, as both runners were caught stealing by catcher Taylor Belza, keeping the game scoreless. 

More of the same followed in the second, as after the leadoff hitter reached on catcher's interference, Protos induced three consecutive groundouts while Solitaria set down the meat of the order 1-2-3 in the home half. 

Senior Stan Musbach singled to lead off the third, and Jake Pfaff beat out an infield single to put runners on the corners for the Wildcats. After an intentional walk to Belza, Musbach scored on a wild pitch to open the scoring, and junior Jackson Boyer laced a ball over the right fielder's head, scoring two and giving Saint Ignatius the 3-0 lead. 

Solitaria kept on rolling in the bottom of the frame, retiring the side in order once again. Brett Krugman singled with one out in the fourth but was caught stealing by Demon catcher Jake Jung, and Protos struck out the next hitter. 

Jackson Moore got the first Westlake hit to lead off the inning before chaos ensued. Krugman bobbled a groundball, making Derek Occhipinti safe at first, and when Moore attempted to take third base, the throw from the first baseman got away, allowing Moore to strut home and put the Demons on the board. Solitaria walked the next batter, and Chris Campbell came in clutch by driving a ball to right field, scoring both base runners. The tension increased with the game tied at 3, heading to the fifth. 

Protos threw another strong inning, allowing only one baserunner when he plunked Solitaria, who finished his outing on the mound with another zero thrown, the only blemish a leadoff Sean Biller single. Solitaria finished with a line of five innings pitched, three hits, three runs (two earned), four strikeouts, and two walks on 75 pitches. 

SIBN Players of the Game vs. Westlake: Jackson Boyer and Sawyer Solitaria

In his final frame of work, Protos ran into some early trouble as Boyer collected an inning-opening single and Mitch Tarnowski walked. Protos settled in, collecting the next three outs and keeping the game tied. The senior's final line was six innings pitched, five hits, three runs (all earned), three punch-outs, and five free passes. 

Senior Josh Jenkins came on in relief for the sixth inning. He forced weak contact, making the first two batters ground out, the latter on a spectacular barehand play by Marcus Tekancic. He then cleaned up after a hit-by-pitch with another groundball out to keep the teams even heading to the final inning of play. 

Mitchell Riedl plunked the first batter he saw in Tekancic and gave up a single to Pfaff after a controversial foul ball call, which gave Pfaff new life. Pfaff was stuck in a rundown after being picked off at first base, and Tekancic darted for third, forcing a wild throw from the first baseman, scoring the sophomore for the go-ahead run in the seventh.

On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Solitaria blasted a hanging breaking ball to right-center for his fifth home run of the season, increasing the Wildcat lead to 6-3. After a groundout, Boyer was plunked, and Tarnowski singled, but new pitcher Travis Ferguson shut the next two batters down to keep the lead at three. 

Jenkins remained in the game to close things out and got off to a hot start, recording a ground out and a fly out to put Saint Ignatius one out away from advancing. Moore reached on a swinging bunt that couldn't be fielded, and Occhipinti walked. Jung rocketed a ball into left field, which scored Moore and gave the Demon faithful some hope. Jenkins was able to hang in and record the final out, securing the Wildcats a date with the Wooster Generals in the District Final, the same team and round where Saint Ignatius fell last season. 

First pitch is at 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 23, the winner will advance to play in the Regional Semifinal against the winner of Twinsburg/Dover at Oberlin College Dill Field on May 30 at 2 p.m.