Rough 3rd inning dooms Tigers

PHOTO BY JILL GOSCHE Seneca East's Turner Bridgford (left) watches as teammate Andrew Kalb catches a fly ball during the regional semifinal game against Hillsdale in Strongsville Friday.

STRONGSVILLE — The Division IV regional semifinal between Hillsdale and Seneca East finished up Friday after being postponed in the first inning Thursday.

After three innings, the game was pretty much over as Hillsdale struck for seven runs in the third frame and behind 15 strikeouts from Wright State commit, Jay Luikart, the Tigers couldn’t make a comeback.

The Falcons eliminated the Tigers, 7-1.

Usually when a team scores seven runs in an inning, the opposing pitcher is getting hit hard and can’t get anyone out.

That was really the case Friday as Rickie Lacy just couldn’t find the strike zone in the third.

After breezing through the first two innings, he walked the first batter. Garrett Smith laid down an excellent bunt just past Lacy and beat out the throw to first for a single. Garrett Goodwin also bunted, but the throw to third pulled Turner Bridgford off the bag, which loaded the bases.

Lacy then hit a batter to bring in a run and then walked four straight batters.

All of a sudden, the Tigers were trailing 5-0 with no one out. SE coach Rick Bowerman then brought Jake Hall into pitch, who threw four scoreless innings to finish the contest.

“That seven-run inning in the third … I think they scored all runs on just a bunt single,” he said. “I told the guys that those things happen. Those innings happen, but it’s just unfortunate it happened at this stage. We battled through, but I felt bad for Rickie. He’s put his heart and soul into this season. You could tell he wanted it more than anybody, but you could tell he lost it out there and couldn’t find the zone.

“I knew we had Jake there, but Rickie showed some signs that he might get out of it, but he just never quite did. He’s a grinder and he wants to grind through it. I wanted to give him that chance. You saw some spots where he might actually get out of it, but it just didn’t happen.”

Hall came in and got an out, but the Falcons scored two more runs on passed balls.

“We had guys on and we got a couple hits in an inning, but we’d get a guy to third, but couldn’t get him in,” Falcons coach Jason Snow said. “We have to make sure we cut down on our swings and put the ball in play and make them make a play. I thought in that (third) inning, we’re not a big bunting team, but we got a great sacrifice bunt that turned into a single.

“Our guys were patient at the plate and made him throw strikes. Once we got a few runs I think it started to relax everyone a little bit and it put a lot of pressure on them because of the way Jay was throwing the ball.”

Luikart looked every part of a Division I commit Friday. He brought the heat from the pitcher’s mound and allowed just one run in the seventh inning.

Bridgford singled off him in the second inning and then Tyler Turek lined a single to left, Chase Foos and Andrew Kalb also had singles. Senior Andrew Daniel hit an RBI single in the seventh.

“Jay Luikart is one of the best pitchers in the state,” Bowerman said. “We battled. He’s going to get his strikeouts, but the second and third time through the order the kids timed him up and hit the ball. We probably out-hit them.

“After that seven-run inning, it’d be easy to crawl into a shell and die. We were facing Hillsdale and one of the top teams in the state, so it would have been easy to say we were done, but we kept fighting. We were able to string together a few hits in the end there, but it would have been nice to get a few more earlier, but hats off to them. They did a great job, but I’m just really proud of our team.”

Overall, the Tigers had kind of an up-and-down year according to Seneca East baseball standards. They finished the year 17-12 overall.

But a run to the regional semifinal isn’t a bad way to go out for the senior class.

“It was kind of a roller coaster of a season,” Bowerman said. “But we started playing well at the right time. We came together as a team. In the middle of the season, we just didn’t have that cohesion, but at the end we started to and trusting each other more. We played off that.

“Rickie, Jake and Tyler, Andrew Daniel … I thought hit the ball as well as anyone today, so we will definitely miss them a lot.”