Neal Jacobs, just moments after his three-hit and four-RBI day, summed up what this time of the season is all about.
His words were few, but well-chosen.
“Every game is big,” said Saint Ignatius' gifted junior right fielder.
No one played bigger on Monday afternoon in Lakewood Stadium than Jacobs, as he ignited the 'Cats' offense and, along with senior right-hander Jack McLinden, helped Saint Ignatius play what head coach Brad Ganor and assistant Frank Russo described as one of its most complete games of the season.
The Wildcats, behind McLinden's three-hit pitching and another majestic blast by Jacobs, defeated the Parma Redmen, 10-0, in a Division I district-semifinal baseball game. The game was called in the bottom of the sixth inning because of the 10-run mercy rule.
With the victory, Saint Ignatius improved to 20-6 and advanced to Thursday night's district championship game against the winner of the Olmsted Falls versus Midpark semifinal. The first pitch from Lakewood Stadium on Thursday is scheduled for 6 p.m.
The Olmsted Falls-Midpark game was suspended on Monday night because of persistent rain and will be resumed on Tuesday at Lakewood Stadium. Lakewood is hosting a Division I district track meet on Wednesday, thus the re-scheduling of the district-final baseball game to Thursday night.
The 'Cats, who garnered the top seed at Lakewood, had to flash their gloves early in order to turn back what was a spirited start by the Redmen (14-8).
Senior catcher George Blake, whose outstanding play at quarterback led Parma to its first OHSAA playoff appearance in football this past fall, started the game with a line-drive single to right field. Senior center fielder Nico Funari followed with a line shot to the gap in left-center field and the Redmen appeared to be in business with runners on second and third and no outs.
It was at that point Saint Ignatius' defense came to the fore and McLinden settled in.
First it was standout senior shortstop Dave Gallagher charging a bad hop and firing a strike to junior catcher Cory Finkler, who made a nice tag on Blake at the plate. Gallagher then combined with his brother, junior second baseman Colin Gallagher, and junior first baseman Mike Horejsei in completing a text-book 6-4-3 inning-ending double play.
Spurred on by their defense, the Wildcats scored four times in the bottom of the first inning.
With runners on first and third and two outs, senior designated hitter Zach Seybert slapped an RBI base hit past the left side of the infield and Jacobs followed with the telling blow, a three-run home run that sailed over the fence in left-center field, past the light tower and kissed off the school building that sits across from Lakewood Stadium. It was Jacobs' team-leading seventh home run of the season, which is three shy of Saint Ignatius' all-time single-season mark set by Dave Gresky in 2000 and equaled by Greg Feltes in 2004.
“I usually hit them (home runs) when I see more pitches and get deep in the count,” Jacobs said. “You just have to keep your hands back. It was a fastball inside after a curveball, and I turned on it. It felt perfect. Right on the sweet spot.”
Dave Gallagher's two-out RBI single up the middle keyed a two-run second inning and two walks and a sacrfice bunt by senior center fielder Kory Gillissie set up the seventh run in the bottom of the third. Dave Gallagher's lead-off single, Jacobs' run-scoring single, Colin Gallagher's single and Finkler's sacrifice fly helped extend the 'Cats' lead to 9-0 in the fourth.
Saint Ignatius settled the issue in the bottom of the sixth on an error, base hits by Jacobs and Colin Gallagher, and a hard-hit sacrifice fly to deep center field by Finkler. The Wildcats finished with 11 hits.
Dave Gallagher also started another 6-4-3 double play to end the top of the fifth and in the top of the third, he hustled after a ball that hit off the pitcher's mound and went high in the air. In one motion, Dave fielded the ball in the air deep behind second base and fired to first to get the runner.
Jacobs, who made a nice catch against the fence in right field with a runner on first and no outs in the top of the sixth, could have had himself a 4-for-4 day at the plate if it wasn't for a highlight-reel play by Parma senior shortstop James Sadey. Sadey ended the second inning by making a fully-extended, diving one-handed catch to his left of a bullet off Jacobs' bat.
McLinden, who couldn't say enough about the work of his infielders, complemented his three-hit pitching with four strikeouts. The Bucknell University recruit improved to 6-1 on the season and 14-1 in his varsity career.
“This was a good team,” McLinden said of the Redmen. “Whenever I gave them anything, they were hitting the ball hard. So we really had to be focused down and make every pitch.
“I've been looking forward to playing in this district game for a long time,” added McLinden, who is a resident of Lakewood. “To be able to pitch this game on this field, it was just great.”
And the way McLinden and his teammates responded had Coach Ganor feeling great.
“Frank (Coach Russo) said it perfectly, that was one of our most complete games that we've played in a long time,” Ganor said. “Probably three or four weeks.
“They get back-to-back hits in the first inning and we cut the run down at home and get the double play to get out of it. That's the game, it really is. It's such a game of momentum, especially in high school baseball, where it is so rally oriented.”