The Golden Flashes lost 5-4 in 10 innings toFrankfort Adena.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
DAYTON -- The dugouts had emptied and the Frankfort Adena crowd had gathered at home plate, but Champion junior second baseman Brett Sulonen lingered on the infield dirt, sprawled out on his stomach, not wanting to move.
After 30 seconds, he got up, gathered himself and walked into the postgame line, joining his teammates for the final time.
No one wanted to believe it.
"Some things didn't go our way," said junior Mark Jackson, the game's losing pitcher. "Sometimes the best team doesn't win."
Minutes earlier, with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the 10th, Adena junior Adam Zurmehly lined a shot toward the right side of the infield. Sulonen dove, but the ball skipped up and off his glove into right field for the game-winning hit in Thursday's Division III state semifinal at Fifth Third Field.
Final score: Adena 5, Champion 4.
This wasn't extra innings. This was sudden death.
"I don't know what I can say," Adena coach Ed Yates said. "They played their butts off, we played our butts off. They had opportunities, we had opportunities. They made great plays, we made great plays.
"It was a heck of a battle."
Adena in Saturday's final
Adena (25-6) advances to play Archbold (23-6) in Saturday's state final at 10 a.m. The Bluestreaks beat Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy 7-6 in Thursday's first semifinal.
The game's key play came with one out in the top of the ninth. The Flashes loaded the bases on two errors and an intentional walk, bringing up senior Chris Palm, who lined a shot to toward left. Unfortunately, it was right at Adena third baseman L.C. Guthrie, who stepped on third base to end the inning.
"Chris hit the snot out of the ball," Flashes senior Jake Gross said. "I just wish it was five feet over."
After Champion went down in order in the 10th, Adena led off the inning with two singles. After a fielder's choice advanced the runners, Champion intentionally loaded the bases to set the stage for Zurmehly's game-winner.
"Hats off to Champion -- they played their rear ends off," Yates said. "I actually apologized to one of their guys. I hate to see anybody lose this type of game.
"I know what I would feel like if it had been us."
Leading the Flashes
Senior Drew Szepietowski had two hits, including a third-inning homer, two walks, two runs and two RBIs for the Flashes (24-5), whose only other state tournament appearance came in 1971.
"This is the best team I've ever played on," Szepietowski said. "I couldn't ask for anything more."
Szepietowski's home run -- his first of the season -- came on a middle-of-the-plate fastball that he crushed into the left field corner, bouncing off the top of the fence just above the 338-foot sign.
"As soon as I hit it, I knew it was gone," said Szepietowski, who gave his team a 3-2 lead at the time. "But it still wasn't enough."
Gross added two hits, including an RBI single that gave Champion a 4-3 lead in the top of the sixth.
"We had plenty of chances and we got out of plenty of jams," Champion coach Tim Cope said. "But we've got nothing to be ashamed of. I'm so proud of this team. They left it all out on the field."
Jackson wasn't dominant, but he was plenty good, maneuvering his way around nine hits, six walks and three errors. He saved his best work for the late innings when he held Adena scoreless in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
"I got out of jams before, so I thought I could do it one more time," said Jackson, who threw 116 pitches. "But that's OK. I'm very proud of what this team has done."
So was Cope.
"They have a lifetime of memories from this season," Cope said. "And they'll never forget it."