In his six seasons as Saint Ignatius' head baseball coach, Brad Ganor has guided teams that achieved significant postseason success, including three consecutive state final-four appearances (2007-09).
That said, as Coach Ganor stood near the right-field line in Lakewood Stadium on Thursday night, it was obvious he was saying goodbye to a team that will always have a special place in his heart and his baseball mind.
“It is never easy to lose,” Ganor said, after the Wildcats were defeated by Olmsted Falls, 6-5, in a Division I district championship game. “When you lose with kids you like being around, I don't know if it hurts more or helps. But at least I'll look back on the season and I won't think of any situations where I regretted having somebody on the team or something like that. They are a great group of kids.
“The chemistry was just fantastic, and that's a tribute to the seniors and their leadership.”
That leadership came to the fore after Olmsted Falls (14-17), a team Bulldogs head coach Dan Largent said has “gotten hot at the right time,” took a 3-0 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth inning.
Largent's club scored on a two-out RBI single by third baseman Cory Maddocks in the top of the first, a one-out home run over the hitter friendly right-field fence by shortstop/relief pitcher Cam Trefny in the top of the second and a two-out run-scoring single by Trefny in the top of the fourth.
Saint Ignatius, which closed its season at 20-7, cut the deficit to 3-1 after there were two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the fourth. The 'Cats scored on a walk to senior shortstop Dave Gallagher, an error and an RBI single to right-center field by junior right fielder Neal Jacobs.
One of Coach Ganor's senior leaders, center fielder Kory Gillissie, gave his team a defensive spark by hauling in a fly ball and gunning down a runner who tagged up from second. The rare 8-5 putout ended the top of the fifth.
Riding the emotion of Gillissie's one-hopper to junior third baseman Colin Gallagher, the Wildcats batted around in scoring four times in the bottom of the fifth.
A lead-off base hit by junior catcher Cory Finkler, a bunt for a base hit by Gillissie and an RBI single by senior left fielder Kevin Hopkins cut the deficit to 3-2. After a walk to junior first baseman Mike Horejsei loaded the bases, standout senior infielder/relief pitcher Mike Burke delivered a game-tying RBI single.
Dave Gallagher then executed a bunt that allowed Hopkins to come home from third with the go-ahead run and, after an intentional two-out walk to Jacobs loaded the bases again, junior pinch-hitter Tyler Kette drew a walk for the 'Cats' fifth run.
Olmsted Falls, which will face 2006 state champion Strongsville in next week's regional semifinal at Case Western Reserve University, answered with a run in the top of the sixth. In a play very similar to Gillissie's effort, Jacobs prevented further damage in the sixth by making a catch in right field and throwing out a runner at the plate who had tagged up from third. It was a perfect and powerful one-line throw to Finkler.
The night belonged to the Bulldogs, however, as they scored twice in the top of the seventh. A one-out walk and a triple by left fielder David Venezuela tied the score and with two outs and Venezuela perched on third, catcher Chaz McGrain fought off an 0-2 pitch and dropped a base hit into short right field for the 6-5 lead. Olmsted Falls had nine hits and committed one error and Saint Ignatius totaled seven hits and also made one miscue.
“We battled back great,” Coach Ganor said. “I was very happy with the position that we put ourselves in when we rallied. I said the other day that it is a game of momentum. They took it early and we carried it late.
“The kid (McGrain) didn't hit a two-run homer, he hit an 0-2 flare down the line. What are you going to do, that's baseball. Sometimes, you know, your number's up."
Dave Gallagher, another of those senior leaders Coach Ganor referred to, displayed his grit and character one last time in a Saint Ignatius uniform, as he reflected on the season when it would have been just as easy to say nothing or walk away.
“Obviously this isn't the way we wanted to go out,” said Dave, who just missed driving the ball out of Lakewood Stadium in the bottom of the seventh. “But I got to play with my brother (Colin) again, which was special for me. I know he's going to take this taste (of defeat) and do his best next year to make sure that this doesn't happen again.
“I loved our seniors, I loved our team," Dave continued. "Like coach said, we had great chemistry and we had a lot of fun. It's tough to swallow right now, but you can't have any regrets on the season.
"A ball falls here and a ball falls there. That's baseball for you. But that's why we love it.”