Whitmer's J.J. Fought steals second as Start's Ricardo Lizcano jumps for the throw.
Whitmer got into the City League baseball playoffs only after a stroke of late-season luck and the third level of the league's playoff tie-breaker system.
The Panthers needed Clay's rain-shortened, 3-2 comeback win over Waite in the CL's final regular-season game to force a tie for fourth between those three teams, then got the tie-breaker nod.
Now that they're in, the Panthers (15-8) hope to turn their break into a CL championship, and they took a big step last night by outlasting top-seeded Start 15-12 in a 3-hour, 13-minute marathon at Scott Park.
"Whether we got in by tie-breaker or not, it doesn't matter," Panther coach Gary O'Connor said. "We're here and we're happy to be here. We just want to represent our school proudly.
"Anytime you're the underdog - and we were the underdog - you want to play like there's nothing to lose. That's how we've been trying to play all year."
Whitmer's Kirk LaPoint probably didn't realize it at the time, but the three "insurance" runs he drove in with a triple in the top of the seventh inning proved to be the difference.
With his team ahead 15-7, pitcher Kyle Andrews - who relieved starter Austyn Ritson with no outs and the bases loaded in the fourth inning - allowed five Spartan runs on three hits, two walks and a hit-batsman in the bottom of the seventh before finally closing the door. He retired the potential tying run, batter Aaron Stewart, on a force play.
The game was equal parts slugfest and just plain sloppy baseball. In addition to the 27 runs and 20 hits (12 by Whitmer), Panther pitchers walked seven batters and hit four others. Start pitchers walked nine.
When Spartan starter Wade Anderson was chased during a four-run Whitmer rally in the fifth, seven of the Panthers' 10 runs to that point were unearned, the by-product of four Start errors.
Anderson, the fourth-ranked Spartans' No. 4 pitcher, started because coach Rich Arbinger was saving his top three pitchers for regional play. Start (22-3) will play Avon Lake in tomorrow's Division I regional semifinals at Shelby
Alex Duhaime's two-run triple off Start reliever Andrew Dailey highlighted Whitmer's four-run, fifth-inning rally. Whitmer added a single run in the sixth and four in the seventh.
"I was looking at the score going to the bottom of the seventh inning," O'Connor said, "and I was thinking, 'It doesn't matter how many you have, you still have to play against Start until the last out, because they're going to battle you.' And they did. Fortunately we got the big [final] out."
Whitmer will play for the CL title against the winner of Saturday's Central Catholic-St. Francis de Sales noon semifinal at Scott Park. The championship game is set for noon Monday, also at Scott Park.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com
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