COLUMBUS - Down to their last out and trailing 2-1 in Sunday's Division IV state championship baseball game against seventh-ranked Newark Catholic, the Springfield Tigers had exactly who they wanted at the plate and on base.
Digging into the batter's box was senior shortstop Cody Pitzo, the most experienced member of the team, playing in his second career state final. Standing 90 feet away at third base representing the tying run was senior Jojo Caraballo, who had more than enough speed to beat out a play at the plate.
Sometimes though, the dream finish doesn't pan out. On a 2-2 pitch, Pitzo popped out to first, ending the Tigers quest for their first state championship just a hair short of the finish line.
"I'm proud of the way we played today," Pitzo said. "We came out and battled as hard as we could, unfortunately it wasn't quite enough."
Newark Catholic (25-10) claimed its seventh state title. The Green Wave rolled into Sunday's championship game having outscored their tournament foes a combined 108-7; however, they found in the Tigers an opponent equal to the challenge.
"I don't know how many people thought this would be a 2-1 game," Springfield coach Matt Weymer said. "Newark Catholic is a great program and they did not face much resistance throughout the tournament. I told our team that they had to play a flawless game to win today and we did. They just beat us, that's baseball."
The Tigers (22-8) came to bat in the first inning facing Newark Catholic ace right-hander Mitch Cox and wasted no time in taking the lead. With one out, Ryan Kohler grounded to short, but Green Wave shortstop James Thomas stumbled while attempting to throw, allowing Kohler to reach with an infield single.
After consecutive bloop singles by Pitzo and Joey Wrask loaded the bases, Hunter Snyder drilled a single through the left side to score Kohler. With the bases still loaded and only one out, the Tigers appeared poised for a big inning, but Cox was able to wiggle free when Dalton Donachie lined out to right and Dom Gentsy struck out swinging. The missed opportunity would loom large as the game progressed.
"I don't think too many people expected us to come out as hard as we did," Pitzo said. "We were aggressive and scored first, unfortunately we couldn't add on."
Springfield had another golden chance in the third when Kohler led off with a line-drive single to left and advanced all the way to third when the ball got through the legs of left fielder Aaron Jurden. With the middle of the Tiger order coming up, Cox bore down, striking out Pitzo and Wrask, and retiring Snyder on a grounder to short.
"That inning was big," Weymer said. "With nobody out and the 3-4-5 batters coming up, that was a run we had to get in."
Cox settled in and pitched a complete game with seven strikeouts.
"I think we surprised him (Cox) early by being able to hit his fastball," Weymer said. "In the middle of the game he switched mostly to his curveball and that really threw us for a loop. Give him credit for the adjustment."
Springfield got an effective outing from its own starter, sophomore Jordan Peterson, who took the loss but guided the Tigers through 3 2/3 innings against a high-scoring lineup.
After blanking the Green Wave through two innings, Peterson gave up the tying run in the third on a single by Hunter Nance. In the fourth, designated hitter Conor Keck singled with one out and was sacrificed to second. With two outs and number-nine hitter David Meurer due up, Weymer summoned junior right-hander James Hillyer from the bullpen.
"We were literally going three outs at a time with our pitching today," Weymer said. "For Jordan to give us 11 outs against that team was fantastic, I'll take it any day."
Meurer greeted Hillyer with a double into the right-center field gap to give the Green Wave the lead 2-1.
"We liked the matchup with Meurer and James (Hillyer), he just got the hit," Weymer said. "It happens."
The Tigers had a chance in the sixth when Brandon Chamberlain came up with two on and two out. Chamberlain made solid contact up the middle but Cox made a leaping grab and threw to first for the out.
In the seventh, Caraballo led off with a four-pitch walk and was sacrificed to second by Eoghan Bees. Kohler came up and hit a hard grounder right at shortstop James Thomas for out number two, advancing Caraballo to third and setting the stage for Pitzo.
Cox fell behind the count 2-0 but worked back to even with a pair of curveballs. The 2-2 pitch was another curve on the outside corner that Pitzo-trying to protect-attempted to foul off but instead popped softly to first for the last out.
"All I wanted was a fastball," Pitzo said. "But the only one I got was out of the zone, he did a great job with his curveball, that's all I saw the rest of the at-bat."
"With two outs and the state championship game on the line, there is nobody I would rather have at the plate than Cody Pitzo," Weymer said. "Cox made a good pitch and got us. That's the way it goes."