Start High School still has a shot at its third Division I state baseball championship, but the third-ranked Spartans (23-2) will be without a City League title this season.
That's because the Waite Indians hustled to a pair of early runs, managed to strand 11 Start baserunners, and escaped with a 2-1 victory in yesterday's CL playoff semifinals at Fifth Third Field.
Waite (21-7) will play for its first league title in 20 years tomorrow night at 6:45 against St. John's Jesuit (17-9).
St. John's, gunning for its third straight league title, rallied from an early 6-0 deficit to beat rival St. Francis de Sales 13-6 in yesterday's second semifinal.
A paid crowd of 2,280 attended the two games.
Waite loaded the bases in the first inning against Spartan pitcher Ian Gallagher, and Indians coach Danny Clayton rolled the dice three times for a 1-1-1 success rate and a 1-0 lead.
Tony Guerra fouled off a squeeze attempt before striking out, but Andy Taylor subsequently dived in safely at home on the front end of a rare triple steal. Catcher David Quiroga then was called out on another steal attempt of home for the third out.
“They would love to hit the fences,” Clayton said of the daring baserunning, “but we don't have that in our game. They realize they can play little ball and get it done.”
Waite beat Start 3-1 during league play, but lost to the Spartans 5-2 in Saturday's district championship game.
“I wasn't sure how we'd come back [after Saturday's loss], but this shows a lot about their character, that they're competitors,” Clayton said. “They came ready to play today. The difference was being ahead. The kids play with a lot of confidence when they're up. Any time you can beat Start is a nice notch in your belt because they're a great program.”
Waite again used aggressive baserunning to go up 2-0 in the third inning.
Yenrick rapped a two-out, hit-and-run single to right-center and Quiroga continued all the way around and beat the throw at the plate.
Yenrick, who escaped one-out, bases-loaded jams in the first and third innings, bailed Start out of one in the sixth.
The Waite senior walked to load the bases, but his slide into second on Tony Guerra's fielder's-choice grounder was ruled as interference and Taylor's run, which would have made it 3-0, did not count.
Start broke through in the sixth, but settled for one run because of a baserunning mistake.
Alex Frank walked and went to third on Quiroga's wild pickoff throw, and Greg Wimberly reached when Waite reliever Justin Sibbersen's third-strike pitch went in the dirt and Quiroga's throw to Yenrick at first was in the dirt. RobHemming then plated Frank with an infield single.
But, after Start's Josh Moulton hit a one-out foul fly to the corner in left where Waite's Guerra made a fine catch near the tarp roll, Wimberly, running from second, never broke stride and was doubled up.
“Tony made a heck of a catch and we got the guy doubled off,” Quiroga said. “I was just relieved. We wanted to get one of the two [district or CL title], and now we still have a chance at the one. So, we're going to try to get that [tomorrow].”
“It was a close game with two good teams,” Start coach Rich Arbinger said. “Waite deserves to be where they're at. Coach Clayton's got a good ballclub.
“Now we're going to try and represent northwest Ohio [in Friday's regional semi against Mansfield Madison] the best way we can.”
St. Francis (17-9-1) jumped Titan starter Mike Kunzer for six runs on four hits in the first inning, but St. John's chased Knight starter Nick Caputo on the way to scoring 10 runs on eight hits over the next three innings to take control.
Lefty Titan reliever Arin MacQueen, who entered with one out in the first, closed the door on St. Francis. He retired 14 of the next 15 Knight batters and did not allow a hit until Knight shortstop Tom Gerken singled to open the sixth. He blanked St. Francis on two hits and two walks.
Titan senior Tom Leyland, nephew of former Pittsburgh Pirates and Florida Marlins manager Jim Leyland, was his team's hitting leader with a 3-for-4 effort that included a triple and three RBIs. Titan sophomore Kevin Leininger was also 3-for-3, with two doubles and two RBIs.
St. John's, which got nine of its 11 hits from the bottom four batters in the lineup, also benefited from five hit batsmen, 10 walks and four St. Francis errors. The Titans, who avenged earlier 9-8 and 9-6 losses to the Knights, stranded 12 runners on base.
“I didn't expect to come in that early and I did what I could to throw hard and spot the ball,” MacQueen said.
“Arin did a great job,” Titan coach Ed Mouch said. “All he needed to do was keep us in the game and hopefully our bats would come alive, and they did.”