Olentangy Liberty made its OCC-Central Division rival work to the very last out, but Olentangy Orange’s Jacob Tabor got just that with a bases-loaded strikeout to send the Pioneers to a thrilling 7-6 Division I regional semifinal win Thursday afternoon in Grove City.
Orange, which lost to Liberty in all three regular-season meetings, showed it was determined not to fall for a fourth right from the start. The Pioneers plated three runs in the first inning and led by a commanding 7-1 margin heading into the bottom of the seventh.
That’s when the Patriots made things more than a little interesting. Josh Stickel got things started with a double to center and, an out later, Zach Meyer singled to score Stickel and make it a 7-2 game.
Anderson Gomez singled and Mason Onate walked to load the bases with one down and, after Cole Cahill got a punch out for the second out of the inning, Brock Amelung connected for a two-out, two-run single to help Liberty creep a little closer.
Connor Mick then greeted reliever Diego Astacio with a single before Josh Bercaw ripped a single to short to score Amelung and make it a 7-6 game.
That’s as close as things got, though. Stickel worked a walk to reach base for the second time in the inning, but Tabor got the game-winning strikeout he was looking for a batter later to seal the deal.
Things certainly got shaky for Orange late — Liberty had a lot to do with that — but the Pioneers were solid from the jump.
After Charlie Scholvin came through with a one-out single, then went to second on a passed ball, Cole Cahill singled him home to break the scoring seal.
Astacio singled to put a pair on, Evan Eichel walked to load the bases and, well, things got interesting after that. With Keegan Knupp at the dish, Cahill scored on a passed ball before Astacio came home on a double steal to stake his team to an early 3-0 edge.
Liberty got a run back in the bottom half — Onate came home on an Amelung single — but Orange added two in the third and another two in the fourth for insurance it needed every bit of.
Cahill, Astacio and Tyler Fuller led the Pioneers with two hits apiece. Cahill added two runs and two RBI while Astacio scored twice and knocked in another.
Cahill earned the win on the mound, allowing five runs on eight hits while striking out six and walking just one in 6.2 innings of work.
Amelung paced the Patriots at the plate, finishing 2-for-4 with a run and three RBI. Gomez was a perfect 3-for-3 with a run while Onate had a hit and scored twice.
Colin Bester suffered the setback, allowing five runs on four hits, striking out two and walking three in 2.1 innings of action.
Next up, Orange will take on Grove City — a 2-0 winner over Hilliard Darby in Thursday’s other semifinal — in Friday’s regional final. First pitch is slated for 5 p.m. back in Grove City.