ZANESVILLE - West Holmes has a team that was able to follow the route of '66.
Forty-six years after the Knights baseball team advanced to the state tournament, a second squad from the school has qualified for the Final Four.
Using a complete team effort highlighted by sophomore left-hander Dillon Baird's return from injury to notch the win in relief, West Holmes defeated Richmond Edison 3-1 in the Div. II Zanesville Regional championship played at historic Gant Stadium Friday.
NICE?GRAB — Edison left fielder Koby?Sronce pulls in a fly ball during the Wildcats’ 3-1 Ohio Division II Regional Final loss to West Holmes Friday at Gant Stadium in Zanesville.
-- Ben Leitschuh
Edison head coach Mike Collopy credited West Holmes for making the big plays at the key times.
"In my opinion, luck is when preparation meets opportunity and they were prepared to make the plays," said Collopy. "It happened for them and it just didn't happen for us.
"One play never decides a game, but us scoring and them coming back and getting two was huge. We had some chances and we didn't get it done, but it wasn't for lack of effort."
There was not a second during the game in which players, coaches or fans could relax. When the final out was recorded, the pressure-cooker ended with tears of joy for the Knights and disappointment for the Wildcats (27-4).
"This is very special and it's a great group of kids," third-year West Holmes coach Kurt McDowell said. "They play as a team and nobody's out there trying to be an individual star.
"They're out there for each other, they enjoy the game and this is awesome."
West Holmes senior right-handed starter Cody Dial delivered 3 and a third solid innings in which he scattered five hits and notched one strikeout, but he got into a jam in the third when Richmond Edison strung together three straight hits and plated its only run.
Alec Jones hit a one-out single, Philip Hilt followed with a hit to right and Nolan Marcus knocked in Jones with a rip to left for a 1-0 lead.
With the season on the line, McDowell gave the ball to Baird. The left-hander had been the Ohio Cardinal Conference Pitcher of the Year, but hadn't pitched since May 2 against Clear Fork when he suffered an inflamed labrum and rotator cuff and even wound up with fluid around his left biceps muscle.
Baird had been extensively rehabbing the injury, worked with two different doctors and threw well enough in a recent bullpen session to warrant McDowell's trust and he didn't disappoint.
Baird escaped the jam by inducing a pair of groundouts and went on to close out the win with three scoreless innings. In the bottom of the seventh, he survived two walks - the first of which was erased by a double play turned by second baseman Vayden Wood - and a single that brought the potential winning run to the plate in Josh Pasek. However, Baird got Pasek to fly out to right on a full count to set off a wild celebration for the Knights.
"It feels great, we just won the regional and we're going to state," said Baird, who improved to 7-1 after striking out two, walking two and allowing two hits in his gutsy return. "My arm still hurts, but I was just on the mound thinking about state.
"I just tried not to think about the pain and fight through it. I threw bullpen the other day to try to get my form back."
McDowell said Dial and Baird gave everything they had in combining to hold down the hard-hitting Wildcats, who last advanced to state in 2007.
"Cody Dial has done everything we could ask of him, especially in the second half of the season," McDowell said. "Pitching, catching, hitting, he's stepped up and he's a true senior leader. He's done what's needed to to help the team.
"Dillon threw Tuesday, felt good after that and (the doctor) said he could throw around 40-50 pitches," McDowell continued. "I think he was just over that. We knew that if we got to today he would be available for a few innings. He was outstanding to be able to be that sharp with a month off, with still some soreness and stiffness. He didn't have his best fastball - he popped it up there every now and then - but he hit spots and kept them off balance."
West Holmes made the most of its seven hits, starting with the fifth inning when it finally scored against starter Mark Smyth.
Freshman Levi Jones blasted a leadoff double over the center fielder's head, Parker Herman sacrificed him to third and Mason James was then hit by a pitch. Woods and Gonzalez followed with run-scoring singles, prompting Richmond Edison coach Mike Collopy to bring in ace Greg Stagani.
The Mount Vernon Nazarene recruit, who had pitched six innings the day before to up his mark to 10-0, got out of the fifth with two strikeouts.
However, Stagani gave up a key insurance run in the sixth when Jones reached on an infield error on a tough hop, Herman had another sacrifice and James drove in Jones with a single to center.
"We had some poor at-bats in the first couple innings, but we came back and made some adjustments," McDowell said. "We got some real key hits, like Mason James getting that third run in."