STRUTHERS - The wind at Cene Park was violent all day on Thursday, but it seemed to pick up during the third inning of a Division IV district semifinal between Mathews and Jackson-Milton.
The sigh of relief coming from the Mustangs dugout might have had something to do with the powerful gusts.
Mathews worked its way out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam - thanks to a great play by third baseman Alex Bagaglia - and Bryan Leipply tossed a two-hit shutout in a 3-0 win over the Blue Jays. The Mustangs (18-4) play Western Reserve at 5 p.m. tonight in a district championship.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Mathews’ pitcher Bryan Leipply, center, and teammates Tom Sharp, left, and Mike Kennedy, right, celebrate the Mustangs’ win over Jackson-Milton in a Division?IV Struthers district semifinal.
It took a gutsy play and a great outing by Leipply to get there.
Second-seeded Jackson-Milton (12-6) had the bases loaded in the third when Nick Woloschak hit a sharp ground ball down the third-base line. Bagaglia, who was playing a few steps in front of the bag, dove toward the line and smothered the ball. As he gathered the baseball from his knees, he had a decision to make: Tag third and take the out, or take a chance at getting the runner at home.
He took the chance, and it paid off.
"They got the guy at home by about a half step," Mathews coach Jared Terlecky said. "It was a risky play, and if he just goes to third with that, Jackson-Milton breaks the ice, and it might be a different game. That was really a key play.
"And believe me, I was just on the verge of yelling 'Tag three' as he threw it. I was just looking for an out in that situation."
Leipply induced a grounder to second base to end the inning, and the once-wild pitcher seemed to find his groove from there. That was all part of Bagaglia's plan - sorta.
"I really wanted to help Brian get that shutout," said Bagaglia, who added that he intended on going home with the throw the whole time. "I knew that kid was heading home, so I threw it home from the ground, actually. Our catcher Cobie Pratt made a great catch and got the force at home."
Leipply walked five in the first three innings, but he settled down and allowed one hit and one walk after that point. He admitted to being nervous at the beginning of the game, but said he felt much more relaxed after the Mustangs escaped the bases-loaded scare unscathed.
"That was a huge relief," Leipply said emphatically. "Heck of a play (by Bagaglia). That's what we practice all offseason for."
Mathews squeaked out a few runs off Woloschak, Jackson-Milton's starter. He was nearly as sharp as Leipply, allowing two runs - one earned - on three hits and three walks while striking out four. The Mustangs got an unearned in the second inning when Jeremy Forsythe scored on an error by the Blue Jays' shortstop. They added a second run in the fourth on an RBI single by Pratt. That scored Bagaglia, who worked a walk after going down 0-2. Leipply provided the last RBI with a two-out, run-scoring single in the top of the seventh.
The Blue Jays had their chances.
They stranded nine runners total, including two in the seventh with their No. 3 hitter, Jeremy Fitzpatrick, at the plate and two out. He hit a one-hop liner to second base to end the game.
"One key hit brings us back into it," Jackson-Milton coach Kevin Hogue said. "We had chances at it all night. We just had an off night offensively. That's life."6
Mathews is in the district final for the first time since 2010, when it lost to Columbiana. The Mustangs' last district championship came in 1996, according to Terlecky.
"It'd be really nice to win one," said Terlecky, a freshman on the 1996 team. "We've had a really nice season. We started slow, and we've been building momentum. I really hope we can keep going."