Jackson-Milton, Western Reserve to meet in district final
By Greg Gulas
There’s a reason the Western Reserve Blue Devils have won three consecutive — and five of the last six — Division IV district baseball titles.
Down 2-0 in the sixth inning, the top-seeded “cardiac” Blue Devils (21-4) sent eight batters to the plate Wednesday, scoring four times for a 4-2, come from behind victory over ITCL foe and No. 4 McDonald at Bob Cene Park.
They will meet ITCL regular-season champion and No. 2 seed Jackson-Milton in today’s final after the Bluejays ralied to beat Lisbon 4-3.
Jeep DiCioccio had three hits, including a two-run double in the sixth that knotted the score at 2-2, also scoring the go-ahead run in the frame to pace Western Reserve.
“We came into the game overanxious and probably a little too ready to play our league rivals,” DiCioccio said. “In the sixth inning it was like everything changed, including our attitude, plate discipline and approach.”
With the game scoreless through the first three frames, McDonald broke the tie and took a 1-0 lead in the fourth when Nate Ifft led off with a single up the gut, stole second, advanced to third base on Dylan Portolese’s sacrifice bunt then raced home on Zach Nolf’s run scoring single.
They increased their advantage to 2-0 in the fifth stanza when Logan Shields reached on an infield error, was sacrificed to second by Joey Celli, moved to third on a Dale Wolford fielder’s choice and then strolled home on Wyatt Larimer’s throwing error.
In addition to DiCioccio’s hit, Justin Ciccone’s sacrifice fly — which scored DiCioccio — and Ryan Slaven’s run-scoring single accounted for the other two runs.
Dom Velasquez went 61/3 innings to pick up the win, needing just eight pitch help from Larimer, who came on to record the game’s final two outs.
“The big thing with me was to try to get quick outs today. I had a lot of confidence in both my curve and cutter today,” Velasquez added.
The Bluejays gave up three first inning runs and then rallied for two runs in both the fourth and fifth innings for their seventh win in eight tries.
Noah Laster came on in relief of starter Sebastian Lay, tossing the final 62/3 innings for the mound victory.
“It was just the start of the game so we weren’t going to panic. After we got out of the inning, everything just seemed to click,” Laster said. “We played well defensively, our bats got going and I continued to use my curve to set up my fastball.”
Zak Lane had a run scoring double in the fourth for the Blue Jays and added an r.b.i. single the following inning.
The two teams split their two regular season contests.
“We stayed focused and that really helped,” Lane said. “Our schedule has been a challenging one and has really helped prepare us for the district final with Western Reserve.”
Jackson-Milton (19-5) has never won a district title, although it have come close lately on several occasions.
“Our kids have been tested all season long and they’ve responded every time,” head coach Kevin Hogue said. “Many of the teams that we played during the regular season were playing for district titles this week at Cene Park.”
Game time for the Blue Devils and Bluejays is 6:30 p.m.