SHELBY, Ohio - The Start Spartans had reached the Division I regional baseball final by using an effective combination of fundamentals, execution and guile. This formula enabled them to win three of their first four tournament games by one run.
But there was no such drama yesterday at Shelby High School, where Cleveland St. Ignatius broke things open with a seven-run fifth inning and took a 12-0 victory over Start for the regional championship.
"Today they were the better team," 33rd-year Start coach Rich Arbinger said of St. Ignatius. "It'll be interesting to see how they do in the state tournament.
"We were [still] trying to win the game until they got up seven, eight runs, and then you've got to think, maybe there's another day."
The Wildcats (27-4) earned their eighth trip to state, all in the last 16 seasons, while Start missed out in a bid for its eighth overall appearance at state.
The Spartans (24-3) do have one target remaining before closing the season - a City League playoff championship. They will face Central Catholic in the 7 p.m. semifinal Monday at Skeldon Stadium. Top-seeded defending champion Clay and St. Francis de Sales will meet in Monday's 4:15 p.m. semifinal. The title game is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Skeldon.
St. Ignatius took a 1-0 lead in the opening inning against Spartan junior starter Garrett Busch, with Justin Mackert drilling an RBI double off the fence in left-center. The Wildcats made it 2-0 in the fourth on Kirby Becker's sacrifice fly.
In the bottom of the fourth, Start's last opportunity to make a game of it was stifled by two big defensive plays by St. Ignatius to back pitcher Neil Butara.
After Start's Mike Szmania (2-for-2) led off by lining a single to center, Spartan standout Ricardo Lizcano (.556 batting average, 9-1 pitching record) hit a hard come-backer to Butara, who turned it into a 1-6-3 double play. Spartan Phil Macias then pulled a line drive which Wildcat first baseman Joseph Dorocak speared in foul territory.
"It was a hard loss but we still had fun because we made a great run," said Lizcano, a four-year starter who played in the state championship game as a freshman in 2005. "A lot of people underestimated us. Even though we lost here we're still going to bounce back and try to win the City."
The floodgates opened in the St. Ignatius fifth.
Eleven batters later - including four doubles, three singles and a walk - and the Wildcats had tallied seven runs for a commanding 9-0 lead. Busch endured the entire rally, throwing 35 of his total 92 pitches, before being relieved to start the sixth.
"They were very tough," Busch said. "I didn't know what to throw. Whatever coach called I was just throwing it. I was just throwing pretty much all I had left. My arm was so tired after that.
"It's easy to throw strikes, but to hit your location time after time, especially with off-speed stuff is hard. We had a bunch of close games in our district and we were able to win another close one [Thursday, 4-3 over Perrysburg] in regional. It eventually just caught up to us, and the baseball gods weren't on our side today."
Three more Wildcat runs in the sixth enabled them to end the game early via the mercy rule.
Eight of the nine players in the St. Ignatius lineup had at least one hit, and six different Wildcats had two hits. Leading the production was designated hitter Jesse Franklin, who was 2-for-4 with three RBIs.
"We wanted to be aggressive," Wildcats coach Brad Ganor said. "We talked about scoring first, and we did that in the first inning and got some momentum on our side."
Butara yielded just two hits [both singles by Szmania] over five innings before being relieved for the sixth. Start never got a runner past second base.
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