After a two-year hiatus, it was back to business as usual for perennial City League and state baseball power Start.
The Spartans (22-2) struck for three early runs, added two more on Phil Macias' two-run homer in the sixth, and pitchers Garrett Busch and Ricardo Lizcano made that hold up for a 5-1 win over Northview (14-14) in the Division I district championship game last night at Skeldon Stadium.
Start last won a district title in 2005 on the way to a D-I state runner-up finish and has collected 17 district crowns, including 15 under 33rd-year coach Rich Arbinger.
The Spartans will face either Anthony Wayne or Perrysburg in a regional semifinal 2 p.m. Thursday at Shelby High School. Those two Northern Lakes League teams will meet in a district final today at 2 p.m. at Carter Park in Bowling Green.
The outcome seemed pretty much set entering the top of the seventh, but Northview made things interesting.
Busch, the starter, has been rehabbing a hamstring pull and exited after walking Rudy Severhofto open the seventh.
"At the end it just came down to pitching mechanics," Busch said of the injury hastening his departure. "I trust Ricky [Lizcano] a lot. He's the reason we're in this situation, and I knew he was going to get them out."
Lizcano, who pitched all eight innings of Start's 4-3 district semifinal win over Southview here on Wednesday, struggled a bit with control in relief. He allowed a pair of singles, then walked David Navarre to force in a run with just one out.
But he struck out Mike Moyer and retired Eddie Ballanca on a grounder to first to preserve the win.
"I was hoping we'd pull through tonight," said Lizcano, who started as a freshman on the 2005 state runner-up team. "We've been playing good baseball the last three or four weeks, and it was our time to put up a [district title] banner this year."
Start left some potential runs on the field, stranding nine runners and having two others thrown out at the plate by Northview freshman left fielder Zach Ryder.
Those impressive outfield assists in the second inning were sandwiched around a three-run Spartan rally. Aaron Newman drove in Start's first two runs with a triple to the gap in left-center, and Kyle Maran singled Newman home for a 3-0 lead.
Start's Aaron Koonce led off the sixth with a bunt single, and Macias hammered a two-out, two-run homer to right.
"Some people didn't expect us to be this good, and I guess we just surprised people," Macias said. "But we're a great team with great players. We just play well together."
It was Macias who was hit by a bases-loaded pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning for the game-winning RBI in Wednesday's semifinals.
"We put guys on base and just didn't get 'em around, and Start did," Wildcats coach Kevin Danzeisen said. "Credit them, and credit Busch for throwing a nice ballgame.
"Our kids have some serious fight in them. They didn't give up, and they did make it close."
Arbinger led the Spartans to state titles in 1994 and 2000, to state runner-up finishes in 1987, 1997 and 2005, and to semifinal advancements in 1993 and 1995.
"Every championship is special," Arbinger said. "It was a good game today and two good teams. We're just thankful to represent our district. The season's not over. We're going to give it our best shot."
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