DUBLIN – Players play and umpires enforce. The second part of that statement is up for debate in stadiums, parks and gyms in any sport throughout the year.
But the debate spilled out to the pitcher’s mound in the seventh inning of Wednesday’s Division I baseball district final at Dublin Coffman High School’s Deck Webb Field.
Olentangy Liberty pitcher Jack Metzger was called for a balk with no outs and runners at first and third giving Upper Arlington what turned out to be the game-winning run in a 4-3 decision.
Liberty coach Ty Brenning bolted from the dugout and argued vehemently that Metzger had not deceived the runner. He was held back by fellow coaches and umpires and then he was ejected.
It was a bitter pill to swallow.
“The caliber of kid that we have in our locker room is what has allowed us to do really special things the last two years,” Brenning said. “We were fully anticipating this to be a really special night and a really special month for us. Unfortunately, we came up one run short.”
The fourth-seeded Patriots overcame a 3-0 deficit, tying the game in the bottom of the sixth inning on another controversial call.
Craig Lutwen sent a fly ball to short right field where UA right fielder Ben Krimm made the catch. Corbin Parrish tagged up at third base and Krimm’s throw took catcher Sammy Sass into Parrish, blocking him from the plate.
Sass laid the tag and the umpire called Parrish out. Brenning rolled in from third base to dispute the call. He was quick on the draw, though, as the runner was awarded home plate due to interference and the game was tied 3-3.
“The only thing I can say is that I thought we were in there,” UA coach Sam Clark said. “They called it the other way and the only thing we can do about it is come back in the seventh and respond the way we did.”
Tommy Dilz started the seventh with a single and moved to third on a Sass single to put runners on first and third with no outs to set up the go-ahead run.
“His step looked clean to me, but I thought his shoulders were clearly toward the plate,” Clark said. “I thought it was a balk. The umpires made the call. Umpires make calls and nobody else makes the decision. They’re the final verdict.”
The Golden Bears took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a Charlie Fleming RBI single. Andrew Whetsell doubled in the third inning to drive in a run and ended up scoring on an Ethan Hammersberg groundout to push the lead to 3-0.
Liberty had been held to a pair of walks to that point – one of which could have led to a run had Sass not thrown out the runner on a caught-stealing in the second inning.
Metzger had the Patriots’ only hit on an RBI double in the fourth inning. Lutwen drove him in with a sacrifice fly to cut the deficit to 3-2.
Metzger allowed four runs, two earned, on nine hits and struck out five in a complete-game effort. He took the loss for the Patriots (23-6), who had won 13 straight and 18 of their previous 20 coming into the game.
“He’s the All-American kid type of kid,” Brenning said. “He’s the kid you want your son to grow up to be. And what’s so hard about this loss is there’s about 22 of those guys in our dugout right now and there’s 10 seniors that we’re going to have to say goodbye to that have been champions … on and off the field.”
Rammelsburg tossed three hitless innings of relief, giving up an earned run on four walks to secure the win for the Bears (20-9).
Krimm started and allowed two unearned runs on a hit and two walks over four innings, but didn’t factor in the decision.
Whetsell and Sass had two hits and a run apiece to lead seventh-seeded UA, which won its first district title since 2010.
“Our guys did a phenomenal job sticking to our approach and disrupting Jack Metzger’s timing,” Clark said. “He’s a heck of a pitcher and he pitched a heck of a game. He likes to take the ball and toe the rubber quick. So, we were big on that and we did an excellent job as a unit.”
The Bears have overcome a lot, Clark said. Clark is in his first year at the helm, replacing Tom Marker, who is now at Olentangy Orange.
UA has been without a home this season due to construction at the high school.
“We battled a lot of adversity throughout the year,” Clark said. “But if you came and watched us throughout the year – you wouldn’t know that we were going through any of that all year. They didn’t let it show on their face. They didn’t show it on the field.
“Wherever we were told to play – we got on buses and showed up to play wherever it was. I gotta tip my cap to my seniors and my captains because they’re the ones that were leading that. Without the leadership of those 10 – there’s no way we come out like that as a team.”
UA advances to the regional semifinal against New Albany Thursday at 5 p.m. back at Dublin Coffman.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at [email protected]