Jake Rudnicki’s final high school baseball game could have been a bad memory — if it had been the no-hitter he had pitched that was wasted in a 1-0 loss to Defiance in last Friday’s Division II district semifinal.
Instead, Central Catholic’s hard-throwing right-hander got another chance at a proper sendoff, and this time his teammates made certain that his, and their own, season ended on a high note.
With Rudnicki striking out 13 batters in a six-hitter Tuesday night at Mercy Field, the Irish (16-13) used 10 hits to upset fourth-ranked St. Francis de Sales 8-2 in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship game.
“I feel very lucky,” Rudnicki said. “It’s a picture-perfect ending to a tough season, and I’m so happy for all the coaches and all my fellow players. I was just happy I could do my part to help the team get the win.
“It was definitely frustrating to pitch a no-hitter and not get a win. That’s uncommon, but it’s baseball.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Central Catholic vs. St. Francis
The loss snapped a 26-game winning streak by the Knights (28-2).
St. Francis now turns its attention to its Division I regional semifinal matchup against fifth-ranked Perrysburg (26-3) Thursday at 5 p.m. at Stellar Field in Bowling Green.
The Irish wasted no time getting rolling offensively, striking for two runs in each of the first two innings.
Derich Weiland led off the game with a walk and was erased when he was caught stealing. But that did not slow Central, which followed with a single to right by Ryan O’Hearn, and back-to-back RBI doubles from Colin Kaucher and DeShone Kizer for a 2-0 lead. Kaucher’s double went to right field, Kizer’s off the fence in left.
In the second, Rudnicki started things with a one-out single. Kam Weber followed with a short fly to right that turned into a double when the ball skipped past the dive of Knights right fielder Cody Lewis.
Weiland then followed with a two-run double just fair down the left-field line, and the Irish held a 4-0 lead.
“We swung it really well the first two innings, and obviously getting four runs and getting some confidence went a long way with Jake on the mound,” Central coach Jeff Mielcarek said. “Jake was really good tonight. It was short rest for him, and that was the most strikeouts he had all year, and he did [it] against the best-hitting team we faced all year.”
St. Francis finally broke through for an unearned run off of Rudnicki in the fourth inning.
Max Lyon barely beat out a bunt single with one out and, with two outs, pinch runner Mark Phillips moved up two bases after an errant pickoff throw by Rudnicki.
Phillips then scored when Irish catcher Weber fielded Nick Lankard’s chopper in front of the plate and fired in time to first baseman John Balcerzak, who dropped the ball for the second error of the inning.
But the Knights returned the favor by allowing an unearned run in the Central fifth and three more in the sixth.
Kaucher’s fly toward the right-field line was dropped by Lewis, and Kaucher ended up on second. After he advanced on a groundout, he scored when St. Francis pitcher Jake Lang was called for a balk.
In the sixth, Tommy Vetter walked, stole second, and scored on a throwing error by Knights’ third baseman Lankard.
Matt Zmuda, St. Francis’ sixth of seven pitchers used in the game, hit Ryan O’Hearn with a pitch with two outs, and Kaucher delivered a game-breaking two-run triple up the gap in left-center for an 8-1 Irish lead.
After Rudnicki started the seventh inning with his 12th strikeout of the game, the Knights loaded the bases on singles by Michael Wagner and Joey White, plus a walk to Eric Zmuda. A wild pitch allowed one run to score, but Rudnicki closed the door.
“It would’ve been nice if we were battling even the whole night, but that happens,” Knights coach Tim Gerken said of Central’s early outburst. “They just got us early.”
He added, “This is the beauty of this league. Everybody’s got a shot at the title [in playoffs]. We’ve been in [Central’s] spot before, and this year we’re in this spot. You deal with it. I tip my hat to them, but I feel bad for my kids.”