COLUMBUS - One run was all that was needed to win a Division III state baseball semifinal.
One swing looked like it could make it happen.
Ursuline's Michael Montalbano saw a curveball come with an 0-2 count and launched a long fly ball to left-centerfield in the bottom of the seventh during a scoreless tie with Wheelersburg.
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
In the bottom of the eighth inning with the bases loaded, Ursuline’s Harry Finelli reacts to striking out to end the game. Ursuline lost, 2-0, to Wheelersburg.
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
In the top of the sixth inning, Harry Finelli applies the tag to Wheelersburg’s Ben Arnold trying to advance to third base.
"It felt really good," the junior said. "I really thought I took it out. I really did."
Instead, left fielder Derek Arthur ran a good 20 feet to the warning track and made the basket catch 10 feet in front of the 365-foot marker on the wall.
"Harry (Finelli) was moving on the crack of it, so there was no question he was going to be scoring from second (after a leadoff walk)," Ursuline coach Sean Durkin said. "The kid went a long way to catch it. When you get to this level it's going to take one big break here or there. That's tournament baseball.
"The game's over if he doesn't make that play."
It continued, though, and Wheelersburg - the reigning state champions - picked up two runs in the eighth inning and held on for a 2-0 win. It's the Pirates' 15th win in the last 16 games, while the Irish end their season at 24-3.
"We had a great run," Ursuline pitcher Sam Donko said. "We were a top-four team in Division III. Nobody else in the area can say that. Springfield (which plays Tinora in a Division IV semifinal today) will get a chance to go further, but right now we're sitting at the top in the Valley."
Donko tossed 122 pitches, the most since he threw 148 in last year's regional semifinal against Keystone. He retired the side in order three times and escaped a jam in the second inning when the Pirates (28-4) led off with two singles. In the third, he allowed three base runners and looked good in the seventh after giving up a double off the wall to Zach Brown.
"That's Sam," Durkin said. "We're spoiled. His biggest assets are his mind and competitiveness. He's a loose, fun-loving kid, but when he gets out there he has a bulldog mentality. I would never be afraid to go to battle with him."
There was no need for panic, or an adjustment when Donko was faced with damage. The Iowa Western recruit said no situation bothered him on the mound.
"Nothing changed," he added. "They had 10 hits, which is pretty good against me. (The shorter innings) helped my arm, so I didn't throw as many pitches. It helped staying in longer."
The top of the eighth inning doomed the Irish with Wade Martin leading off with an infield single. He advanced to second on a throwing error and scored when the next batter, Ben Arnold, connected for a double off the right-field wall. Donko struck out Cam Parsley and got Dylan Miller to ground out before Derek Moore drove in Arnold with a single up the middle for Wheelersburg's second run.
With the Irish needing to answer, Joel Hake ripped a single down the left-field line. Anthony Rohan then singled to centerfield, and Ryan Strollo continued the rally with a line drive to left.
"Our kids have pretty good approaches at the plate," Durkin said. "We didn't do anything differently, either. They weren't dead going into that inning. I give them credit for making that late push."
The string of hits got to Pirates pitcher Derek Moore, and he was pulled for Wade Martin, a sophomore, who retired Donko and Finelli to finish it.
"That's not the ending that we wanted," Rohan said. "We wanted to win - that was our goal. We knew they were the defending champs, but we had a chip on our shoulders, too. It just didn't work out for us."
Donko and Moore each had six strikeouts and walked one and two, respectfully. Donko hit Sam Robinson in the bottom of the seventh, but retired Garrett Carmichael before catcher Matt Lacko, who is fending off a torn meniscus, caught Arthur trying to steal third to end the inning.
An Ohio University assistant coach was in attendance scouting Moore, who could pitch for the Bobcats in the fall. He's 35-0 in prep competition over the last four years.
"For a senior, he worked his butt off all game," Montalbano said. "He just did his job shutting us down. That's something we haven't had happened all year."
Ursuline graduates eight seniors. Seven juniors, including Montalbano - the team's leading hitter with a .523 batting average - two sophomores and a freshman who saw varsity action return in an attempt to get the Irish back to Columbus for the ninth time.
"I'm going to be determined to come back here and to be the next leader," Montalbano said.
Junior Dion Felger had Ursuline's first hit in the fifth inning. Rohan collected two of the Irish's five hits.