COLUMBUS The Western Reserve Blue Devils must have been thanking their lucky stars heading into the bottom of the sixth inning of their Division IV state semifinal at Huntington Park on Thursday.
Despite having three errors in the first three innings and collecting just two hits up to that point, the Blue Devils trailed state powerhouse Newark Catholic by one run, with the Green Wave stranding nine runners.
"That's exactly what I told the umpire 'We're like the cat with nine lives,'" Western Reserve coach Ed Anthony said. "They probably left eight, nine guys on base. We've had our opportunities, and sometimes that would come back to haunt a team."
Playing with fire eventually came to haunt the Blue Devils, however. The Green Wave plated four runs in the bottom of the sixth and put to bed any thoughts of a Western Reserve comeback en route to a 6-2 win.
"Going into the seventh inning, they got some hits," Anthony said. "I take my cap off to them they earned it. They drilled some shots. It wasn't like we made errors after that first inning."
That first inning was almost a disaster for the Blue Devils (19-6). Starter Nick Allison had lead-off batter Mike Lohr on 1-2 count when the Newark Catholic (20-8) second baseman lined a double to left field, and then two throwing errors one by the left fielder on the throw to the infield and another by the first baseman on a throw to third allowed Lohr to come home.
The Green Wave eventually loaded the bases before Allison got out of the inning.
"I've never seen that in my entire life, to be honest, where they're throwing it around and the kid got an inside-the-park (homerun) on (two) throwing errors," said senior Tristan Bova, who started at shortstop. "Right when that happened, I had to bring it in, I had to calm everybody down."
The team recovered following that inning, especially when Dan Zilke tied the game in the top of the second with an RBI double, but Allison could not.
The 6-foot-4 senior tried to fight through elbow soreness, but with the bases loaded again in the bottom of the second, Anthony had no choice but to pull his ace after 1 2/3 innings and the Green Wave up, 2-1.
"We monitored him closely before the game, and he gave a thumbs up and he said, 'Coach, I'm ready to go,' " Anthony said. "The poor kid is just pitching on guts, and we couldn't have him out there no more."
Allison's replacement, Bova, got Western Reserve out of that jam and held the Green Wave in check for the next three innings. That ended in the bottom of the sixth when the Green Wave offense exploded.
With one out and the bases loaded, senior Sean Thomas hit a sacrifice fly to right field to drive in the first run, and 6-7 senior Conor Keck knocked in two runs on with a double to left. Pitcher Gabe Morris scored Keck with a single to right-center field to finish the four-run sixth.
"They're good hitters one through nine, they hit the ball," Bova said. "They're going to put the ball in play, there's no getting around it. Unless you're Nolan Ryan, you're not throwing a no-no against these kids."
Western Reserve scored a consolation run in the top of the seventh and had multiple runners on base when centerfielder Hunter Nance gunned down Zilke at the plate to record the final out.
Although the result didn't go in the favor of the Blue Devils, they did earn the respect of Newark Catholic, which will be making its eighth state final appearance since 2002 when it faces Defiance Tinora on Saturday.
"I don't know what he's got coming back, but I bet if he's got enough coming back, they'll probably be back," Newark Catholic coach John Cannizzaro said.
Anthony expressed some optimism about the future as well and said this year's team set a benchmark for years to come.
"I think it's something that you've going to have the rest of your life," Anthony said. "These guys can live how many ever years hope they live a long time but teams will now always be compared to 2014 on the baseball scale. It's special."