BASEBALL: Title chance: After tough regular season, Ike advances to District 10 Class A championship game

ALBION – Eisenhower finished the 2013 regular season with an otherwise unimpressive 5-11 record.

That really doesn’t matter right now.

All that matters to the Knights is that they are 1-0 in the postseason and have secured a spot in the District 10 Class A Championship Game after a 9-5 victory over top-seeded Rocky Grove in the D-10 Class A semifinals, Wednesday, at Northwestern Area High School in Albion.

Ike coach Jon Vincent said the playoff win was the first for the program since 2004. He added that the victory is special for a variety of reasons.

“It’s just really a neat deal,” said Vincent. “Nine years ago in that last playoff win, (Jon’s son and current assistant coach) Cody (Vincent) was pitching for the team. This year, Casey is pitching for the team, so on a personal level that’s very special to me.

“But perhaps what makes me happiest of all is that this group of guys got the job done. This group of seniors was my first group of freshmen. I would love nothing more than to see them leave the program as District 10 champions. We’ve given ourselves that chance.”

Sophomore Kyle Hunt had a big day for the Knights on Wednesday, smacking two doubles, scoring two runs and reaching base in all four of his at-bats. Hunt said that the playoff win leaves the difficulties of the regular season firmly in the rearview mirror.

“It’s kind of like starting the season all over,” said Hunt. “When we started the year, none of us were hitting the ball and we were struggling each time out. Now, our bats are starting to come alive and 5-11 means nothing. We’re 1-0 and it feels great to have the opportunity to play for a title.”

The Orioles (8-6) may have entered the postseason as the top seed, but they certainly didn’t play like it on Wednesday. Rocky Grove committed a number of errors and allowed the Knights to score five runs on only one hit in the decisive bottom of the sixth inning.

The first inning and a half was played scoreless before Ike broke through in the bottom of the second. Logan Bellardo led off with a double and scored on Aaron Lundmark’s single through the right side. The Knights later advanced runners to second and third with nobody out, but Rocky Grove starter Adam Kirwin pitched himself out of further damage.

The Orioles took the lead in the top of the third, scoring a pair of runs off Ike starter Ryan Williams. Freshman Colton Schneider drove in the first run with an RBI fielder’s choice and Dylan Heller’s sacrifice fly gave Rocky Grove a shortlived 2-1 lead.

Ike immediately struck back in the bottom of the inning, answering with two runs of its own. Casey Vincent reached on an Orioles error and Hunt doubled to set the table for the Knights. Bellardo tied the game with an RBI single and Hunt raced home from third when Rocky Grove attempted to throw out an additional Ike runner who was trying to steal second.

In the fourth again, the teams again exchanged runs and the Knights led 4-3 after four full. The Orioles tied the game with an unearned run, but Eisenhower pulled back ahead when Hunt’s run-scoring single brought home Coty Cantrell.

Rocky Grove again tied the game in the top of the fifth when Heller’s RBI single scored teammate Garrett Ganoe and the game remained tied until the bottom of the sixth. There, the Orioles fell apart and the Knights all but punched their ticket to Monday’s title game with Cochranton at Slippery Rock University’s Jack Critchfield Park. Cochranton defeated Kennedy Catholic, 1-0, in Wednesday’s other semifinal.

Shane Arford started the rally by drawing a one out walk and he moved to third when Cantrell’s fly ball to center was misplayed for an error. Vincent walked to load the bases and Hunt’s groundball to first got behind the bag, allowing two runs to score and giving Ike a 6-4 lead.

Williams then brought home another run with an RBI fielder’s choice, Hunt scored on a passed ball to make it 8-4 and a ball hit by Lundmark was again misplayed allowing a ninth run to score.

All told, the Knights scored five runs in the inning on just one hit. They were, however, able to take advantage of two walks and three Rocky Grove errors.

Despite having the five-run lead, Eisenhower still had to sweat things out in the seventh. Vincent hit Rocky Grove’s Kirwin with a pitch with the bases loaded, making it 9-5 and the tying run came to the plate with only one away. However, Vincent buckled down, striking out Luke Updegrave for the second out and getting Nate White to ground out to Cantrell at second to end the game.

While coach Vincent was pleased with the outcome of the game, he was quick to admit his team will have to play better in order to bring home the ultimate prize.

“As much as I like baseball, I hate bad baseball,” said Vincent. “We made a lot of mistakes today and we need to clean it up before Monday. Kyle Hunt had a huge day at the plate and he really saved us. Ryan was fantastic starting the game for us and Casey pitched well too. Cody and I will be working with him on his location before the game next week. It was an up and down game, but I give our guys credit. They did what they needed to do and we’re one win away.”

ROCKY GROVE (5): Murray, 3b, 4-0-0-0, Ganoe, ss, 3-3-0-0, Schneider, rf-2b, 4-0-1-1, Heller, c-p-rf, 2-0-1-2, Frankenberger, rf, 0-0-0-0, Kirwin, p-1b-c, 3-0-0-1, L. Updegrave, cf, 4-1-2-0, White, 2b-p, 4-0-2-0, Gill, lf, 3-0-0-0, C. Updegrave, 1b, 0-0-0-0, Adams, dh, 3-1-1-0, Prorok, p-1b, 0-0-0-0, Totals: 30-5-7-4

EISENHOWER (9): Cantrell, 2b, 4-2-0-0, Vincent, ss-p, 3-2-0-0, Hunt, 1b-ss, 4-2-3-1, Williams, p-1b, 4-1-1-1, Bellardo, c, 4-1-2-1, Lundmark, rf, 3-0-1-1, Fedorchuk, cf, 3-0-1-0, Spencer, dh, 3-0-0-0, Jackson, 3b, 0-0-0-0, Arford, lf, 2-1-0-0, Totals: 30-9-8-4

Rocky Grove 002 110 1 – 5 7

Eisenhower 012 105 x – 9 8

2b-L. Updegrave (R), Schneider (R), Hunt (E) 2, Bellardo (E). WP-Vincent. LP-Prorok.