St. Mary Catholic Central second baseman Michael Iott makes a catch with backup from right fielder Cameron Sulfaro.
RIVERVIEW, Mich. - Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central pulled an upset yesterday, edging fourth-ranked, perennial state- power Blissfield 3-2 in a Michigan Division 3 regional baseball semifinal at Riverview Gabriel Richard High School.
But the Falcons (20-15-1), gunning for their first regional title in 20 years, got a taste of their own medicine in the regional final. SMCC fell 7-3 to Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (24-14), a team the Falcons had beaten 11-1 earlier this season.
"After [beating Blissfield], that was an obvious letdown," Falcons coach Jim DeSana said. "Give Gabriel Richard credit. They put the ball in play, and they got those little hits that they needed and we contributed to it with walks. But we played so far below our ability in the second game. It was like night and day [from] the first game."
The Irish had beaten Detroit Community 9-4 in yesterday's first semifinal. In contrast to Monroe SMCC, Blissfield (33-7) had won nine regional titles since the Falcons last got that far and lost in the 1986 state semis.
In fact, the Royals of coach Larry Tuttle (940-277-4 in 39 seasons) had gotten to at least the state quarterfinals four straight years, six out of the past seven, and won state titles in 2000, 2002 and 2003.
This history mattered little to Falcon senior starter Bill Kohls, who limited Blissfield to just four hits over seven innings and retired the final six batters in order to secure the upset.
"Billy Kohls' pitching performance pretty much ensured that win," DeSana said. "If he isn't on the hill for us, we don't win that game, plain and simple. It was his best performance of the year, by far."
Kohls struck out seven, walked one batter and hit another.
When the dust had settled, Thomas Lieto of Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central had scored the winning run against Blissfield - as pointed out by teammate Ben Liedel - in a Michigan Division 3 regional baseball game yesterday.
"We didn't execute," Tuttle said. "There were two things we had to do - play defense and keep [Anthony] Giarmo and [Thomas] Lieto off the bases. We didn't get that done and that's why we're going home."
Lieto reached four times, Giarmo three.
"You've got to perform when the lights go on, and we didn't," Tuttle said. "[Kohls] threw a great ball game. We knew every pitch that was coming [by reading signs], and we still didn't hit him. That says a lot for him and not much for our hitters."
Royals starter Andrew Estes was effective in defeat, allowing five hits and striking out 10. But he walked five and Blissfield commited a season-high five errors.
Blissfield took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth, when Ryan Eff singled and scored on Tyler Wehner's double off the fence in right-center.
The Falcons answered with two unearned runs in the fifth. Lieto reached on a one-out error by third baseman Zach Pawson, and scored when Kohls' single to right skipped past Wehner. Kohls (3-for-4) scored from third on Ben Liedel's groundout.
The Royals tied it in their half of the fifth. John Estes was hit by a two-out pitch and scored on brother Andrew's double to left.
SMCC's winning run in the seventh came when Lieto walked, moved up on Estes' wild pitch and scored on Kohls' single to center.
"I'm really not stunned," Tuttle said. "I knew they were a good enough ballclub that, if we didn't play well, we wouldn't beat 'em. We didn't play the way we're capable of playing. We basically laid an egg. Maybe we were looking down the [tournament] road too far."
In the final, the Falcons were up 2-1 before a fateful bottom of the fourth.
That's when starting pitcher Lieto was chased during Gabriel Richard's five-hit, two-walk, six-run inning.
Jeff Little singled, Shaun Walters walked and Irish pitcher Bryan Riley hit into a fielder's choice. Joe Deeds walked to load the bases, and Walters scored on a second fielder's choice groundout.
Gabriel Richard added five runs with two outs on successive singles by Jeff Rowinski, Vince O'Neill, Peter Burak and Jim Rolph.
The last hit was off reliever Kohls, who also yielded a run on a wild pitch.
"As a coach," DeSana said, "when you watch an inning like that and you look back on it, you kind of think, well, it really wasn't meant to be.
"It seemed like every ball that was hit found grass. There was really no obvious play that we could have made there. They were not hard-hit balls. The ball [O'Neill] hit to left field was a bleeder, and the ball [Burak] hit up the middle I'm thinking, how in the world do we not keep that on the infield? It was such a slow roller."
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com or 419-724-6461.