Westerville South gave the top-ranked Olentangy Orange baseball team all it could handle, getting the tying run to third base in the top of the seventh, but the Pioneers prevailed to secure an 8-7 Division I regional semifinal win Friday night at Dublin Coffman.
The Wildcats (26-4) got at least one runner on in all seven trips to the plate, which is hard to do against Orange (27-3) … especially when ace Josh Laisure and closer Jacob Tabor are on the mound.
Laisure and Tabor didn’t blink, though, minimizing the damage more often than not.
The Pioneers landed the first punch, scoring twice in the bottom of the first. Caden Konczak started things with a walk before Matt Wolfe and Laisure greeted South starter Andrew Collinsworth with back-to-back RBI knocks.
The Wildcats, who stranded a runner in scoring position in each of the first two innings, looked poised to answer in the third. Jack Bates singled up the middle and Kaden Saunders walked, but Orange catcher Connor Till thew Bates out trying to steal third. Saunders went to second on the play, and got to third when Santo Scillia reached via a dropped third strike, but Saunders then got picked off third and Laisure coaxed Brayden White, arguably South’s top hitter, to ground out to end the inning.
Orange added to its edge in the third as the top of the order came through again. Konczak walked for the second straight plate appearance, Wolfe followed with a bloop single to right and Laisure legged out a bunt single to load the bases with nobody out.
Collinsworth nearly wiggled off the hook, getting the next batter to hit into a double play, but Logan Shearer came through with a clutch two-out single to score Wolfe and help his team add to its edge.
The Wildcats finally broke through in the fourth, getting on the board when Bates drew a walk with the bases loaded, but Laisure struck out the next batter to strand three more runners on base and keep his team in front.
South added three more in the fifth to take a 4-3 lead, scoring a pair on an error to tie things up before Thatcher Dietz doubled to score Nick McConnell with the go-ahead run.
Like all good teams do, though, the Pioneers responded. After Wolfe laced a one-out single to left, Laisure singled to center before Shearer singled to score Wolfe and Laisure scored on a throwing error. Austin Knupp then singled home Shearer to make it 6-4 before being thrown out trying to get to second.
The back-and-fourth battle continued the rest of the way. South got two off Tabor in the top of the sixth. Bates walked to get things started and scored on a sac fly off the bat of Scillia before Nick McConnell worked a bases-loaded walk to force in the tying run.
Tabor got Dietz to pop up after that, leaving the bases loaded for the second time in the game.
Orange then landed its final blow in the bottom of the sixth. Till greeted South reliever Matthew Bame with a leadoff double before Tyler Deering moved him to third with a perfectly-placed bunt. Sam Sells then beat out an infield single, with Till scoring on the play.
The Pioneers got one more — a run it turned out they needed — when Wolfe calmly collected his fourth hit of the game to score Sells and balloon the lead to 8-6.
Saunders doubled to score Brandon Kim in the seventh, but Tabor got Scillia to ground out before White flew out to end the game, stranding Saunders — who represented the game-tying run — at third.
Next up, Orange will take on New Albany (26-5) in today’s regional final. The winner will get either Mayfield or Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit in a state semifinal next Friday night.