By Jack O'Rourke '20
Congratulations to Coach Brad Ganor on his first OHSAA D-I state baseball title, as well as his staff, players, and managers.
A team that truly had it all. A coach and coaching staff that loved being at the ballpark. Players with smiles and genuine care for one another. A team that ran deep from top to bottom and had everyone contribute. A team that never gave up. A team that truly earned the title state champions. Ask any member of this team or staff, they never guaranteed an easy route or games that went seven innings- especially the latter.
Andrew Mulhern, the Wildcat ace, threw a first round no-hitter. This team found a way to score three sixth-inning runs to beat Brecksville-Broadview Heights, amidst a gem from Nick Fletcher. Luke Lashutka’s scoreless innings and a Flynn Lenahan walk off sealed a district title. Mulhern threw another gem, timed with a Geraci double and Mays single to beat Amherst Steele 1-0. Matt Ferritto also shut down the Comets in the bottom of the seventh. Despite trailing in the Regional Final, an offensive outburst in inning No. 6 propelled the Wildcats to the final four. Excellent pitching and situational hitting, compiled with the longest State Semifinal in OHSAA history, sent the Cats to the title game.
The formidable Mentor Cardinals stood in the Wildcats’ path to a title.
After that 13-inning State Semifinal, the Wildcats’ pitching staff was spent. Speculation arose on who would start the biggest game of the season. Surprising the Ohio baseball world, Ganor called upon freshman hurler Gabe Nard. Nard isn’t the tallest pitcher in the world, but the freshman stood on the mound not showing any signs of the pressure on him. His eyes pierced the batters he faced, as he proved what those who have seen him pitch knew all along--Allstate, you’re in good hands.
TOP OF THE 1ST INNING.
Cardinal ace and Penn State committ Chad Rodgers toed the rubber for the Eastsiders. AJ Gaich, Wildcat second baseman and captain, led the game off with a walk. Gaich broke for second base during Jack Whelan’s at bat, and as he reached second base, the throw from behind home plate skipped into the outfield, sending Gaich to third.
As Whelan saw ball four of his own at bat, the ball reached the backstop and Gaich brought home the game’s first run.
Saint Ignatius 1, Mentor 0.
Michael McNamara hit a screamer to the outfield, but Tim Eppich ran it down to make the catch, sending the Cats to one out. Michael Holdsworth drew the third walk of the inning, but the Cardinals escaped further damage via a double play.
BOTTOM OF THE 1ST INNING.
The hard throwing freshman Gabe Nard stepped on the mound, with a fearless stare on his face. Nard whipped two fastballs in his first two pitches and showed everyone at Canal Park he came to play. Nard sent the Cardinals 1-2-3 after a groundout from McNamara to Connor Mays, a pop up to Austin Jones, and a catch by Jack Whelan. Nard walked off the Akron mound with a swagger about him, and was greeted by his teammates outside the dugout.
TOP OF THE 2ND INNING.
Flynn Lenahan ripped a ball between the third baseman and shortstop for a clean single to begin the second inning. Matt Geraci bunted Lenahan into scoring position for the first out. After trailing Rodgers 0-2, Mays responded by taking four straight balls. Once again, the Cardinals escaped with a double play.
BOTTOM OF THE 2ND INNING.
Nard made quick work of the #4 and 5 Cardinal hitters, with a ground out to AJ Gaich, and a pop up to Mays. After a batter reached on an error, and a walk to the next batter, Nard stayed cool and threw a nice inside pitch which resulted in a grounder to Gaich for the third out.
TOP OF THE 3RD INNING.
Rodgers showed why he is committed to play college ball, as he retired three Wildcats in a row in the top of the third inning.
BOTTOM OF THE 3RD INNING.
Nard cleanly fielded a bunt by Eppich, trying to catch the Wildcat defense off guard for the first out. Nard struck out his first batter of the day as he left the leadoff hitter dazed and confused when he locked him up for a called looking strike three. After a Cardinal walk, a lineout to Jack Whelan kept things at 1-0.
TOP OF THE 4TH INNING.
Michael Holdsworth roped a lead off triple, but Rodgers fought his way out of the inning, retiring the next three batters and keeping the game 1-0.
BOTTOM OF THE 4TH INNING.
A pop out to Jack Whelan began the fourth inning. A single through the same hole Lenahan found in the second inning gave Mentor their first hit. A fly out to Matt Geraci became the second out. Nard fanned the fourth batter of the inning, and stared coldly, as he walked back to the dugout showing little emotion.
TOP OF THE 5TH INNING.
Erik Daugenti singled into the outfield, but Rodgers continued his strong mound effort, and keeping the pitcher’s duel at 1-0.
BOTTOM OF THE 5TH INNING.
Nard continued his dominance by striking out the first batter of the bottom of the fifth inning. Tim Eppich walked, and Noah Gladish reached on a bunt to put runners on first and second. After both runners advanced a bag, a sacrifice fly brought home Eppich, and a throwing error scored Gladish who followed behind with a Lofton-esque run and was able to slide under the tag at home plate.
Mentor 2, Saint Ignatius 1.
Gabe Nard was removed after the second out and the one unearned run to a standing ovation by Wildcat fans. Nard had done his job and gone 4.2 IP, 3 K, 1 ER.
Sam LaGuardia entered from the pen, and got the final battle of the inning to fly out. LaGuardia is one of the nicest kids you will ever meet, and has the utmost class. Seeing the righty record the final out of the inning to do his job out of the bullpen was a tearjerker moment for Wildcat fans.
TOP OF THE 6TH INNING.
After LaGuardia recorded the final out, the Wildcats needed to add a run down to their final six outs. After two quick outs, Austin Jones hit a grounder to the left side of the infield. Lots of players, figuring they would be out, would have half-heartedly jogged towards first base and not forced a tough throw. The senior captain booked it to first base, forced an errant throw, and hustled into second base. Flynn Lenahan lined a hard hit ball down the right field line, scoring Jones and losing his helmet on the way. Having watched Gladiator the night before, Lenahan raised his arms as if to say, “Are you not entertained?” to the Wildcat faithful. The senior who had done it countless times, had done it once again.
Saint Ignatius 2, Mentor 2.
BOTTOM OF THE 6TH INNING.
Lights out. Luke Lashutka entered the game for the Wildcats. The rising senior and future captain came on to work his first inning of relief. Lashutka retired the Cardinals 1-2-3, including a strikeout to end the sixth. This information is not surprising for Wildcat fans, as all postseason Lashutka has dominated from the bullpen.
TOP OF THE 7TH INNING.
Kyle Beller entered to pitch for the Cardinals. Connor Mays singled to start the inning, and Jake Lang came into the game to pinch run for Mays. Erik Daugenti bunted Mays into scoring position. With Lang on second, the Cardinals elected to intentionally walk AJ Gaich. After a passed ball to Jack Whelan, which advanced Lang and Gaich, the Cardinals gave Whelan a free pass to first base. Beller worked through the jam and kept the score 2-2.
BOTTOM OF THE 7TH INNING.
Lashutka dominated once again, striking out two batters on the way to a 1-2-3 inning.
TOP OF THE 8TH INNING.
Despite a Flynn Lenahan single, Beller fanned two batters and sent his team to the plate with an opportunity to walk off in the state title game.
BOTTOM OF THE 8TH INNING.
Lashutka would not let the Cardinals walk off, as he struck out the first two batters of the inning, and a pop up to McNamara sent us to another extra inning.
TOP OF THE 9TH INNING.
Kyle Beller would send the Wildcats back onto the field with a 1-2-3 scoreless inning in the top of the ninth.
BOTTOM OF THE 9TH INNING.
Luke Lashutka continued his dominance by striking out two batters in the bottom of the ninth, as he forced another extra inning.
TOP OF THE 10TH INNING.
Michael McNamara began the tenth inning by lining a triple to the First Energy Power Alley. McNamara threw his arms in the air and hyped up the Wildcat bench, leading off the inning with a bomb to deep left field. On a full count, Michael Holdsworth sent a ball charged into the outfield, that got down to score McNamara. Holdsworth, an uber talented third baseman headed to play college ball, reached second base and shrugged to the Wildcats’ dugout as if to imply what else would the senior leader have done? Holdsworth is a great player and will be missed next year. Austin Jones grounded out to the second baseman, but did his job to advance Holdsworth to third base. After showing bunt, Flynn Lenahan pulled back, and the Cardinals had Holdsworth in a run down. The catcher’s throw skidded past the shortstop covering third base, sending Holdsworth home for an insurance run. Flynn Lenahan added his fourth hit of the game, but the Wildcats were held at 4-2.
Saint Ignatius 4, Mentor 2.
BOTTOM OF THE 10TH INNING.
Luke Lashutka took the mound with a chance to win the second state title in the storied history of Saint Ignatius baseball. On a full count, Lashutka fanned the leadoff Cardinal for the inning. After a single by Zach Mezget to left field, a fly out to Erik Daugenti sent the Cardinals to their last out. After a 1-0 count, a Lashutka pitch passed Jones and rolled to the backstop. Trying to catch Jones off guard, the Cardinal runner broke for third base. Jones throw to Holdsworth was on time and the tag was laid down by Holdsworth. After what seemed to be an eternity, the umpire struck his fist to signal the third out.
Manager Troy Hyde and Mac Boyle led the charge to Lashutka at the pitcher’s mound. The coaching staff shared hugs in the dugout, and Head Coach Brad Ganor triumphantly raised his arms in the air, having won his first state title. Players and coaches alike hugged on the first base line, as all their work had paid off. The Wildcats were presented the championship trophy.
After singing the alma mater, the Wildcats grabbed their bags from the dugout and recounted stories from the game, which continued long past the final out was made--and will continue until the day the last player is laid to rest. The 2019 Saint Ignatius baseball team will forever be a family. Whether it is at weddings as each other's best men, or pointing at a banner to their own kids, good memories will flow through the minds of the coaches and players. One of the most touching moments was seeing the grin on Coach Ganor’s face as he met his two young sons, Dom and Luke, along with his wife Mrs. Nicole Ganor, as the family embraced and held a trophy together. From a mission that started years ago, to Sunday at Canal Park, I would like to extend my furthest congratulations to Coach Ganor and his staff on their first state title.
Lastly, I would like to extend a thank you to the Wildcat baseball team. These guys filled every dumb request and question asked to help our broadcasts, and they will always be one of my favorite teams to cover.
Congratulations to this team and family. Some would say this run had its fair share of luck. I’d say it was destiny.
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