MASSILLON - Throughout the season and especially in the district tournament, pitching and defense were what led the Ursuline baseball team to its fourth straight regional tournament.
That's what made their demise in the Division III regional final so surprising.
The Irish unraveled for six errors and let a four-run lead slip away in falling to Orrville, 8-7, on Friday at Massillon High School's Ducky Schroeder Field.
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Ursuline’s Joel Hake, center, walks off the field after the final out of Orrville’s 8-7 victory over the Fighting Irish on Friday.
Of the eight runs Ursuline (11-11) allowed, only two were earned. Those two came in Orrville's biggest inning, a four-run sixth, but it was the last run given up that proved to be the difference. That run also scored on an error.
"We were up 5-1 with Dion (Felger) on the mound, and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves," Irish coach Sean Durkin said. "But they're a great team, and it was more them taking it than us giving it away. They were down repeatedly and just kept fighting back, so they deserve a ton of credit."
Ursuline trailed 1-0 but scored five times in the third inning. Only one of those runs was earned as the Red Raiders (18-11) also had their problems in the field, committing four errors. The big blows came with two outs, as the Irish's Drew Potesta and Logan Pullin each slugged two-run singles.
Orrville struck back in the fifth, scoring three times after a bit of a melee occurred in the bottom of the fourth. Ursuline's Michael Montalbano was running to second after a groundball was hit to Orrville second baseman Chad Harrison. Montalbano ran over Harrison when he attempted to apply the tag. Harrison threw off his hat and spiked the ball as tempers flared. No punches were thrown and no one was ejected, but the play fired up the Red Raiders.
"I honestly think that was the turning point in the game," Orrville coach Scott Marshall said. "To be down 5-1, I'll be honest, I thought we were done. That (play) woke us up. We were talking about it in the dugout after the game. It really upset some of our kids. I thanked him because that was a good motivator."
The Red Raiders scored three times in the fifth to cut the lead to 5-4, but Ursuline responded with two runs in the bottom half of the inning, pushing its advantage to 7-4. That set the stage for the sixth.
Harrison worked a leadoff walk, Kyle Ritchie singled and an error BY the Ursuline right fielder loaded the bases for J.T. Perez, a University of Cincinnati recruit who started the game on the mound but was pulled after 2 1/3 innings because of problems with his command. He made up for it with a three-run double to deep right field. That tied the game, and the Red Raiders took the lead when Montalbano committed an error on a grounder to first base, allowing Perez to score.
"It certainly wasn't our day defensively," Durkin said. "We gave them some extra chances, and a team with that kind of offensive punch, you don't need to give them extra chances."
Montalbano singled and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the sixth, but relief pitcher Stuart Schley struck out the next two batters to diffuse the potential rally. Schley, who pitched five innings of relief the day before in the Red Raiders' 12-inning, 1-0 win over Independence, didn't allow an earned run and struck out six in 4 1/3 innings.
"The arm is pretty tired, I'm not gonna lie," he said, only half joking. "I just wanted to throw strikes and keep my team in it because I knew the bats were going to come around eventually."
The Irish's Zach Patton reached base in the seventh, but he was stranded at first following a strikeout and a grounder to the pitcher that ended the game. Ursuline graduates five seniors, including Felger, a left-handed pitcher who said he's committing to Roane State Community College (Tenn.).
"It was a successful career," he said. "I can walk away and smile about it. I'm not sad about anything. I wish we would've went to Columbus, but it wasn't meant to be."
Orrville, which advances to state for the first time since 1976, plays Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (28-2) at 4 p.m. Thursday.