West Branch shuts down Geneva

LOUISVILLE — Three batters into the game, there were no outs, one run already in and runners at first and third. West Branch baseball coach Rick Mulinix went to the mound with a simple message for his starting pitcher.

“I told him, ‘I need the cocky Anthony Perry,'” Mulinix said.

And quicker than you can say Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Perry’s demeanor transformed. He got out of the inning allowing no more damage and the Warriors took control the rest of the way to post a 9-1 victory over Geneva in the Louisville Division II district championship game.

“Confidence is a big thing for me,” Perry said. “I feel like, when I get rolling, no one is better than me. That’s the mindset I have and it obviously helps me on the mound and even at the plate.”

West Branch (23-6), the No. 3 seed and 12th-ranked squad in the state coaches poll, will take on Ursuline (16-12) in a regional semifinal at 2 p.m. May 30 at Thurman Munson Stadium in Canton.

Perry struck out six and walked two, allowing six hits. Geneva (15-6) had a runner on base in every inning but went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.

“We had to play an ‘A’ game with them playing a ‘B’ game,” Geneva coach Terry Hejduk said. “We probably played a ‘C’ game and they played an ‘A’ game.”

The Eagles’ Shea Arkenburg was caught stealing for the first out of the game. Then Perry retired the next two batters on a popup and ground ball.

“That was the key to the game,” Mulinix said. “If they get another hit there and we don’t get the [caught stealing], they might get four or five [runs].”

In the bottom of the first, West Branch loaded the bases on a walk, a single and a hit batter, then Perry delivered a two-run single. J.T. Thomas grounded out to make it 3-1.

“When you pitch with the lead it’s always nice,” Perry said. “Getting those couple runs was big for me.”

The Warriors added two more runs in the second inning, three in the fifth and one in the sixth.

“We had some key hits and we were able to take advantage of stealing some bases,” Mulinix said. “We got a suicide squeeze down.”

Perry finished with two hits, three RBIs and a stolen base. Hunter Shields, superb behind the plate defensively, continued his torrid late-season hitting with two singles and a pair of RBIs. Boston Mulinix added a double and single, Thomas had an RBI triple and Beau Alazaus hit a one-out double in the sixth that started a three-run rally.

Senior catcher Curtis Maier had a pair of doubles for Geneva, which saw a nine-game winning streak snapped.

“That first inning we scored, but we just didn’t get that second run in,” Hejduk said. “That second run may have pushed it over the edge. Then they came out and threw three on us.

“A big game like this, it’s a boxing match. And for us to sit there and expect not to get hit is absurd. So, we knew they were going to hit us at some point. It’s ‘what are we going to do when we get hit?’ Unfortunately, we stumbled.”

West Branch, which has won four consecutive games and eight of its last nine, won its first district championship since 2010 and fifth all-time. The Warriors beat Ursuline 3-0 way back on March 28. The winning pitcher in that game, Alazaus, will likely be on the mound again Thursday in the regional rematch, nine weeks to the day.

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