West Branch fends off Jefferson, 6-4

BELOIT – West Branch struggled at the plate and in the field, but the No. 3 seed Warriors had the most dominating player in the middle of the diamond for six innings Wednesday, which made all the difference.

Senior pitcher Beau Alazaus, a Walsh University commit, shut down No. 18 Jefferson Area with seven strikeouts, allowing two hits in West Branch’s 6-4 victory in a Division II baseball sectional final.

“Everybody knows when Beau is on the mound it gives us a good chance to win,” said West Branch (20-6) coach Rick Mulinix. “He throws strikes, doesn’t walk anybody [and competes].

“We just didn’t swing the bats well enough to give him more runs.”

The Warriors survived a four-run seventh-inning rally by Jefferson against its bullpen to reach the district semifinals for the second consecutive season. West Branch will play Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin (11-9) at 5 p.m. Monday in Louisville.

Jefferson (7-13) trailed 6-0 entering the final frame, but after a two-run single by Giovanni Matticola, sandwiched by RBI hits from Devin Salinas and Toby Dickson, the Falcons had the tying run at the plate. A strikeout ended the threat.

Mulinix said West Branch has been hitting well as a team of late but went just 4-for-20 officially on Wednesday.

“It’s kind of frustrating with this group because we know we can swing the bats,” he said. “We’ve seen it at times, but then we just go through a stage like this. A week ago we were swinging it but the last three games we haven’t been able to repeat that.

“But we got a win and that’s the most important thing.”

The Warriors broke through during their second time through the lineup against Jefferson’s Luke Lambert, taking advantage of three hits and two walks to score four runs in the bottom of the third.

Alazaus had a two-run double in the rally. Hunter Shields also had an RBI hit and added a second one in the fifth.

“That’s team baseball that they play,” Jefferson coach Scott Barber said of the Warriors. “They get a guy on third, they’re hitting him in. It might not be a base hit, it might be a ground ball to the second baseman. They’re getting it done.”

West Branch got what turned out to be two important runs in the fifth. Aaron Tucker led off with a walk, stole second and went to third on a wild pitch. Shield’s single scored the run and he came around to score on a grounder to first base by J.T. Thomas.

“I wish we could have hung on a couple [runs] on them in the early innings,” said Barber. “We would have been really right where we needed to be in that last inning.”

Barber praised Alazaus’ performance in which 54 of his 73 pitches were strikes.

“He’s schooled in doing what he needs to do,” Barber said. “He’s a college pitcher right now. He knows what his ball is going to do every time and he commands it. He’s hitting that spot instead of half the plate.”

Jefferson had a runner in scoring position in the second and fifth innings but couldn’t score and Alazaus got three sterling defensive plays from his left fielder, shortstop and second baseman in the fourth after Dickson led off by reaching on a throwing error.

Salinas and starting pitcher Luke Lambert had two hits apiece for the Falcons. Lambert also kept West Branch’s offense in check, despite walking seven.

The Falcons turned a couple of alert defensive plays of their own. Catcher Tate Hudson threw out a runner attempting to steal third base in the second, and Matticola, from centerfield, threw a BB to Hudson for a catch-throw-tag double play in the third inning.

West Branch’s last district championship came in 2010. They are 0-5 in district semifinals since then, including a 1-0 loss to Hubbard last spring. But this team – Shields, Alazaus, Tucker, center fielder/pitcher Gavin Bell and second baseman Jaxon Robb are the seniors – want to earn a regional trip to Thurman Munson Stadium in Canton.

“It’s a monkey on our back,” acknowledged Mulinix. “This is why we always say baseball is the greatest sport. Just because you’re better than someone doesn’t mean you win, and just because you win doesn’t mean you’re better than that team. It’s a funny game.”

Mulinix played a challenging non-league schedule. The Warriors defeated four Division I opponents, including Massillon Jackson, the No. 1 seed in the D1 district. They also played Lake Center Christian, the No. 1 seed in Div. IV, and had a game against Div. II top seed Poland suspended by rain.

“If we play the way we’re capable of and swing the bats, play pretty good defense and Beau’s on the mound,” said Mulinix, “I think we’ve got a chance to beat anybody.”

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