Red Knights advance in dramatic fashion, 7-5
WHEELING — A comeback, suspense and a thrilling finish — Monday’s OVAC 2A semifinal delivered all three.
After Wheeling Central (12-6) rallied from a four-run deficit to take the lead, Toronto tied the game in the seventh and won it in the ninth, 7-5, at the J.B. Chambers I-470 Complex.
The Red Knights (11-4) advance to take on Catholic Central at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at Steubenville for the OVAC 2A crown.
Toronto’s two-run ninth began with a leadoff walk, followed by a sacrifice bunt, a play that the Central defense could not handle. A throwing error on the play put two runners on, and a fielder’s choice for the next hitter loaded the bases with no outs. With nowhere to put him, Toronto’s Lucas Gulczynski did exactly what he needed to do, as he lifted a sacrifice fly to center to score the go-ahead run. As the defense looked to get a runner out at first, a throwing error brought in a second run for insurance.
Despite blowing the early lead, Toronto coach Brian Perkins saw his team weather the storm in the end.
“This says a lot about our kids and how resilient they are,” Perkins said. “They came out with a lot of emotion and were excited to come down here and play. Wheeling Central battled back, but it just showed what our team is made of. They continued to battle and battle and were finally able to break through.”
There were many missed chances for both teams, but a golden opportunity for the Maroon Knights was squandered in the bottom of the seventh.
With the bases loaded and only one out, Toronto pitcher Nick Sninchak abruptly left the mound with what looked to be a serious injury.
Enter Tristan Thomas into a pressure-packed situation, and he delivered. Thomas struck out the first batter and received a diving catch from right fielder Aaron Clegg to escape the bases-loaded jam.
“Tristan came in cold, but he’s been a big game pitcher for us all year,” Perkins said. “He did a great job of calming the game down and keeping Central off balance. He gave us a chance to win.”
The Maroon Knights stranded runners in scoring position in five different innings and suffered from several base-running miscues.
“The biggest thing is that we loaded the bases in the seventh and couldn’t put any pressure on the defense,” Central coach Bo McConnaughy said. “But, that’s baseball. Hats off to coach Perkins. His team fought back. I want to wish him and his team good luck. He has a great club.”
Toronto grabbed the upper hand early with a three-run second on five hits. Kobe Herrick led off with a double. Thomas, Nick Chetock and Gulczynski followed with RBI knocks.
Clegg added a RBI single in the third to give the Red Knights the 4-0 cushion.
After the slow start, Central erased the deficit in the fifth by batting around and scoring five to take a 5-4 edge. Pinch-hitter Mike Toepfer sparked the outburst with a leadoff double. Avery Lee followed by dropping an RBI double into shallow right field, chasing Sninchak from the game.
Nate Karaffa came in to relieve his teammate, but the Central bats were not fathomed. Angelo Gentile blistered a two-run single to left, and Kyle Newmeyer tied it with a laser off of first baseman Zac Berger’s glove and into right.
Dominic Pompeo gave Central its first lead with an RBI double, and Sninchak stepped back on the mound to get the final two outs.
“Both teams played a great game,” McConnaughy said. “They had five hits in one inning, and we came back and took the lead. (Toepfer) got the big hit and got us going. We save him for that situation. He can hit, and he is also a pitcher.”
Adam Murray started and went six innings with five strikeouts and three walks, before being relieved by Sonny Peluchette in the seventh.
With Toronto three outs from elimination, back-to-back walks came back to haunt the Maroon Knights, as Brendan Matyas dropped down a sacrifice bunt and a Chetok sacrifice fly sent the game to extras.
“This team has faced a lot of adversity between injuries and the flu bug,” Perkins said. “But, it’s just a great group, and the senior leaders have been pulling it all together for us.”
Toronto 7, Wheeling Central 5,
Toronto 0-3-1 0-0-0 1-0-2 — 7-10-2
Central 0-0-0 0-5-0 0-0-0 — 5-11-5
TORONTO: Sninchak (4K, 0BB), Karaffa (5) (0K, 0BB), Sninchak (5) (2K, 1BB), Thomas wp (2K, 0BB) and Gulczynski. Chetock S, 2rbi; Gulczynski 2S, 2rbi; Sninchak D; Herrick D, S; Clegg S, rbi; Thomas 2S, rbi.
WHEELING CENTRAL: Murray (5K, 3BB), Peluchette lp (2K, 5BB) and Pompeo. Lee D, rbi; Gentile S, 2rbi; Murray 3S; Newmeyer S, rbi; Pompeo 2S, D, rbi; Toepfer D.