Cole Cahill tripled to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning and, an out and two intentional walks later, Keegan Knupp chased him home with a squeeze bunt to send the Olentangy Orange baseball team to a 3-2 Division I state semifinal win over Anthony Wayne Thursday afternoon in Akron.
For a team that’s made a living playing from in front this postseason, the Pioneers proved they’re good for a rally or two themselves.
Down 1-0 ever since the Generals opened the scoring summary with a run in the top of the first, Orange’s patience finally paid off in the seventh.
Gabe Miller and Jacob Lattig worked back-to-back walks before Anthony Wayne decided to intentionally walk Ian Dando to set up a force at any base — a strategy that turned out to work pretty well, but only after Charlie Scholvin worked a bases-loaded walk to even things up, 1-1.
The Generals (27-5) followed up a fielder’s choice with a double play to wriggle off the hook without any further damage, but the blow proved to be too much to come back from as the Pioneers (23-10) earned the walk-off win a couple innings later.
Jack Behnfeldt singled up the middle to score Bryce Anderson in the eighth, but Orange again had an answer with its back against the wall as Dando was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to force home the game-tying run and set up the thrilling finish.
Orange had been playing from in front all postseason long, taking first-inning leads against Big Walnut, Dublin Scioto and Olentangy Liberty before going on to wins. It took the Pioneers until the second to go up on Grove City in the regional championship, but, once they did, they never looked back.
Down early, Orange had a handful of opportunities to score the equalizer earlier than it did, none better than in the bottom of the third. The Pioneers loaded the bases — Lattig walked, Dando legged out a bunt single and Scholvin was hit by a pitch all with one down — but Generals starter Brayden Weis snagged a liner off the bat of Cahill before getting Diego Astacio to ground out to end the threat.
Orange got a runner to third with one down in the fifth, too, but ended up stranding runners at second and third as Weis was able to escape for the second time in three innings.
The Pioneers made things harder on themselves than they had to, stranding 12 runners over the course of the game, but made the plays they needed to in crunch time — none bigger than Cahill’s triple.
Cahill was strong on the mound, too, allowing two runs on six hits in eight innings of action. Jacob Tabor, meanwhile, tossed a 1-2-3 ninth to pick up the win.
In Thursday’s opener, top-ranked Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller (30-3) edged sixth-ranked Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit (26-4-1), 2-0, to punch its ticket to Saturday’s championship game.
The Crusaders broke the scoring seal when Clay Burdette singled through the left side to chase home Nathan Manley, who tripled to lead off the fourth.
They added another in the fifth when Ethan Sweat scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Toby Hueber.
The RBI gave Hueber, who improved to 10-0 with the win, an insurance run he didn’t end up needing as the senior tossed five innings of three-hit ball on the mound. He struck out five and walked just two.
Carson Marsh took care of the rest, earning the save with two shutout innings.
Walsh Jesuit’s Ryan Piech limited Moeller to just three hits through six strong innings of work, but it wasn’t enough. Alex Covas led the Warrior offense with three of the team’s four hits. They left seven runners on base, stranding runners at third in the first and fifth.
Next up, Orange and Moeller will square off in the Division I state championship game Saturday morning back at Canal Park in Akron. First pitch is slated for 10 a.m.