STRUTHERS - The Mathews baseball team wasn't ready to give up in the top of the seventh, trailing top-seed Western Reserve, 5-2, in the Division IV district final at Cene Park.
In fact, some might say Mathews, winners of 14 straight, had the Blue Devils right where it wanted them. Less than a week ago, the Mustangs rallied for three runs in the bottom of seventh to tie and eventually beat McDonald in a sectional final.
They were in the same predicament on Friday.
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Players for Mathews walk on to the field after their 5-2 loss to Western Reserve on Friday.
"Those guys, they still believed we were going to come back in the last inning," Mathews coach Jared Terlecky said of his team, "and that's all you can ask for as a coach."
Western Reserve starter Nick Allison had other ideas.
Allison allowed four hits and two runs - zero earned - in seven innings, and the Blue Devils hung on to beat Mathews, 5-2. Western Reserve (18-5) advanced to the Division IV regional semifinal at 4 p.m. Wednesday against St. Thomas Aquinas.
The Blue Devils got there on the arm of Allison, who improved to 9-0 and has allowed two earned runs the entire season. He really settledin after the third inning, setting down 11 straight Mathews batters.
"Toward the end of the game, I felt like I was able to hit my spots a little better, especially with my splitter (split-finger fastball)," he said. "I was a little nervous coming into the game, but it's just another game if you look at it the right way."
The Blue Devils jumped on Mathews (18-5) in the bottom of the first. John Clegg hit a run-scoring triple to deep right-center field, and Jake Clark followed with an RBI on a groundout to give Western Reserve a 2-0 lead. After the Mustangs made it 2-1 in the top of the second thanks to an error by the Blue Devils, Western Reserve went back up by two in the bottom of the inning. A two-base error on a deep fly ball to right-center field was followed by an RBI single by Zach Smith.
That was all the support Allison needed.
"Their pitcher did a fantastic job," Terlecky said. "He was around the plate all day. He threw different pitches for strikes. We did hit some good, hard shots, but their defense played well, and they had a couple clutch hits when they needed them, so that's a recipe for success."
Mathews used a similar formula to reach the district final for the first time since 2010, and the Mustangs did their best to rekindle that magic against Western Reserve.
They made it a 3-2 game with a run in the second, coming off an error by the Blue Devils' third baseman. Western Reserve added single runs in the fourth and fifth innings to take a 5-2 lead into the ninth. Two quick outs were followed by a double by Cobie Pratt, breathing life into the Mustangs, but a chopper to the pitcher didn't bounce high enough for Brian Oatridge to beat out Allison's toss to first.
The victory sent Western Reserve to the regional for the second time in three years.
"We had a strong talk at the school today," said Western Reserve coach Ed Anthony, whose team rallied to beat seventh-seeded Lowellville, 3-2, on Thursday. "We knew situational hitting might come into play, which it did. I told them, 'The little things are what win you the big games,' and I think that helped."
The Mustangs finish their season against Maplewood on Tuesday. A win gives them an outright Northeastern Athletic Conference title, thanks to their 14-game winning streak. A loss means they'd be co-champs with Windham.
"The last couple of weeks, I think we won 14 or 15 in a row, and part of that was things were falling for us," Terlecky said. "The ball was finding holes. We were pitching and hitting when we needed to. I mean, we had a three-run comeback against McDonald in the bottom of the seventh.
"Sometimes the game will break your heart - when the ball doesn't find those holes and they make the plays. But I couldn't be more proud of them as a team. They came together and expected excellence out of each other. It was a good season."