BASEBALL: ‘Kids kept fighting’: Warren’s 7th-inning comeback puts Dragons back in D10 title game

ERIE – Trailing 1-0 with two outs and nobody on in the top of the seventh inning, Warren was dead in the water. The season was over. The chance to defend its District 10 Class AAA championship lost.

Not a chance -a lot can happen in one out.

Warren rallied to score three seventh-inning runs and staved off a Cathedral Prep rally in the bottom of the seventh, stunning the Ramblers for a 3-1 victory in the District 10 Class AAA semifinals, Friday at Ainsworth Field.

With the win, the Dragons (15-5) advance to Monday’s 1:30 p.m. D10 Class AAA championship game against Slippery Rock, a 2-1 walk-off winner over Grove City in Friday night’s other semifinal.

Until then, Warren’s players, coaches and fans will be talking about Friday’s “instant classic.”

“We’ll definitely have a bullseye on us after this win,” said Warren coach Rick Eaton. “These kids kept fighting and fighting and we have a chance to defend last year’s title. That’s a chance a lot of people didn’t think we’d have when this year started. This is just a great group of kids. Their effort, desire and never-quit attitude has given them the chance to do what many thought couldn’t be done. And that’s repeating as district champs.”

Fantaskey said the naysayers have driven the Dragons all season.

“This year, I think we had a lot of doubters,” said Fantaskey. “No one really had us pegged as a District 10 champion. Now we have the chance to prove them all wrong. We’ve been fighting all year. Being down to our last out and pushing back is what this team is all about.”

While winning in such a dramatic fashion can help build a team’s momentum, Eaton may argue that the game never should’ve been as close as it ended.

“We tried to do everything we could to give the game away,” said Eaton. “But give the kids credit; they were given one last opportunity and they took complete advantage of it.”

The Dragons’ missed opportunities started right off the bat. Fantaskey led the game off with a triple off Cathedral Prep starter Eli Flynn, but the Dragons failed to bring him home. Flynn struck out Austin Schwanke, got Tanner Stanz to ground out and then struck out Matt Hultquist to end the half inning.

In the third inning, Warren left the bases loaded, and in the fourth inning a baserunning mistake again hurt the Dragons. With runners on first and second, Todd Fasenmyer ripped a single back through the box. Jason Stanton took a big turn around third, but was forced to stop when Prep centerfielder Carter Cross fired a bullet to home plate. Eddie Ord was in between second and third when Stanton put on the brakes and was ultimately tagged out in a rundown to end the threat.

While Warren was failing to cash in on its chances, Fantaskey was keeping the Rambler bats at bay, allowing only one Prep base hit through the first four innings. The game appeared to be taking on a “first-team-to-score-wins” look and Prep finally broke through in the bottom of the fifth.

With two out, Cross doubled down the left-field line and shortstop Ted DeSanti followed with a run-scoring single that gave Prep the all-important 1-0 lead.

Warren grabbed a little momentum in the bottom of the sixth when a rundown between third base and home that could’ve have resulted in a 2-0 Ramblers lead instead led to the final out of the inning. Prep runner Billy Fessler broke for home and shoved Warren pitcher Stanz out of the way in an effort to get to home plate. While Stanz was in the baseline, without the ball, the umpire decided that Fessler had made unnecessary contact with Stanz and called him out.

In the seventh inning, Warren came to the plate needing at least one run to extend the game.

The inning started off well when Ord drew a walk, but courtesy runner Ryan Gustafson was caught stealing for the first out of the inning. Flynn then struck out Fasenmyer, bringing Fantaskey to the dish as Warren’s last chance.

Prep cracked the door open when Fantaskey reached on an error and Warren quickly burst the door down completely. Perhaps the biggest hit of the game was delivered by Austin Schwanke, who shook off an 0-for-3 start to the game by crushing the first pitch he saw to center for a single that moved Fantaskey to third.

“The Prep pitcher had been going to his curveball a lot all day, but I noticed that the three batters before me had all been thrown first-pitch fastballs,” said Schwanke. “I made up my mind to swing at that first pitch and I was just happy to come through in a big spot for the team. We just kept trying to stay up. We had each others’ back and everybody came through for everybody else on the team.”

Stanz followed Schwanke and it appeared that Flynn was trying to pitch around Stanz to load the bases. In doing so, the ball got away from Prep catcher Scott Hess, allowing Fantaskey to score from third with the tying run.

Stanz eventually walked to load the bases and Hultquist hammered a pitch to left field where a diving Charlie Fessler was unable to come up with the ball. Hultquist was credited with a single and Schwanke and Stanz scored to make it 3-1 Warren.

The bottom of the seventh didn’t start well for the Dragons as Stanz walked Dan Blazek and then Flynn singled to put two runners on. Cross was up next and grounded to short where Fantaskey made a diving stop and flipped to second baseman Tanner Teconchuk to narrowly put out Flynn. Flynn argued the call and was ejected from the game.

With DeSanti at the plate, Cross – representing the tying run – shuffled out to a huge lead from first and was eventually picked off by Stanz for the second out of the inning. Two pitches later, DeSanti flied out to Schwanke in center, giving the Dragons the thrilling win.

“These guys just keep proving what hard work and not giving up can do for a team,” said Eaton. “It’s not going to be an easy game Monday no matter who we play, but we’ve given ourselves the chance to go out there and accomplish our goal. You can’t ask for more than that.”

WARREN (3): Fantaskey, p-ss, 4-1-2-0, Schwanke, cf, 4-1-1-0, Stanz, ss-p, 2-1-0-0, Hultquist, 3b, 4-0-1-2, Stanton, 1b, 4-0-1-0, Cerra, rf, 3-0-0-0, McIntosh, lf, 3-0-0-0, Ord, dh, 0-0-0-0, Teconchuk, 2b, 0-0-0-0, Fasenmyer, c, 2-0-1-0, DeLattre, cr, 0-0-0-0, Gustafson, cr, 0-0-0-0, Totals: 26-3-6-2

PREP (1): Flynn, p-2b, 4-0-1-0, Cross, cf, 4-1-2-0, DeSanti, ss, 3-0-1-1, Hess, c, 3-0-0-0, C. Fessler, lf, 3-0-0-0, B. Fessler, 1b, 2-0-0-0, Francis, rf, 1-0-0-0, Flanigan, dh, 2-0-0-0, Blazek, 3b, 2-0-0-0, Schoen, cr, 0-0-0-0, Riley, p, 0-0-0-0, Baltes, 2b, 0-0-0-0, Totals: 24-1-4-1

Warren 000 000 3 – 3 6

Prep 000 010 0 – 1 4

2b-Cross (C). 3b-Fantaskey (W). WP-Stanz. LP-Flynn.