It looked gone. Olentangy Orange’s Tyler Brown sent a deep fly ball to center field that just missed leaving the yard with runners on first and second and nobody out in a 3-3 game in the bottom of the seventh.
“Honestly, I thought it was gone,” Pioneers coach Phil Callaghan said. “I’ve seen him hit enough rocket shots like that … that was a good one.”
“I thought it was gone as soon as he hit it,” said Jason Schutte, who was standing at second. “With no outs – I was at second, making sure to tag up in case (Gahanna CF Mason Coleman) caught it. It hit the fence and I just took off running and didn’t stop.”
It didn’t leave the yard, but it was hit far enough. Brown’s ball ticked off the glove of the center fielder as he crashed into the wall and fell to the ground sending Schutte home and the Pioneers to the Division I Final Four with a 4-3 victory.
“I just couldn’t let (my teammates) down,” Brown said. “I just sat fastball and trusted my hands.”
Orange overcame a three-run deficit to win the school’s first regional title in thrilling fashion Saturday at Dublin Coffman High School.
So, why was Schutte tagging up at second?
“We practice every day that with no outs and a runner on second, you always tag on a fly ball – just to get on third with one out to guarantee a run,” he said.
Phil Callaghan has come to expect that kind of heady play by his senior and four-year starter. He pointed out that if the ball had been caught, Schutte still would have scored.
“Schutte was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing – tagging at second,” Phil Callaghan said. “Schutte is just flawless with his play. For four years, I have watched him play the game exactly the way I like the game to be played. That’s why he’s been such a leader for us.”
It looked dire for the Pioneers in the first. Coleman sent the first pitch of the game into left and Cael Baker followed with a double.
Jarod White grounded out to drive in the first run and Josh Oddi followed with a RBI single to give the Golden Lions a quick 2-0 lead.
“They’ve had big first innings, so when we held them to two – I knew we were in decent shape,” Phil Callaghan said.
Orange starting pitcher Matthew Poole had allowed two runs on three hits just 16 pitches into the game.
“I had to battle,” Poole said. “I knew we’d battle – that’s just how we are as a team.”
It could have gotten worse … easily. Gahanna had the leadoff batter reach in each of the first five innings, but turned just one of those into runs.
“Watching him in the ‘pen, I actually was kind of worried about his stuff. But, he just battled through,” Phil Callaghan said. “We made some plays defensively and just kept fighting through.”
Baker, who led the Lions with three hits, led off the third with a double, moved to third on a White flyout and scored on an Oddi sacrifice fly to give Gahanna a 3-0 lead in the third.
Poole went the distance to get the win for the Pioneers (23-8), allowing seven hits and a walk with three strikeouts.
Things turned in bottom half when Ben Miller singled, Cole Callaghan walked and Schutte bunted for a hit to load the bases. Miller scored to break the seal on a double play to cut it to 3-1 through three.
Tyler Ross opened the fifth with a double to right and took third on a throwing error. Miller drove him home with a sacrifice fly to cut the deficit to one.
Brown was hit by a pitch to start the sixth and Zach Stiteler followed with a hit to left. Pinch runner Robbie Dayhuff scored on a throwing error on Logan Moss’ sac bunt attempt to tie the game.
Schutte walked to open the seventh and Poole followed with a single to set up Brown’s game-winner.
Mitchell Megias allowed three runs on six hits and two walks and a hit-batter over five-plus innings for the Lions (17-8).
Jonathon Novinec was saddled with the loss, allowing a run on two hits and two walks with a pair of strikeouts over the final two frames for Gahanna.
Schutte and Stiteler led the Pioneers with two hits apiece.
Orange meets Strongsville in the state semifinal Friday night at 7 p.m. at Huntington Park in Columbus.
“It’s great for these kids,” Phil Callaghan said. “We did not play great baseball early (in the year) … they’re great kids and throughout the tournament, they’ve played the game hard and they’ve played the game right.”
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.