Good advice leads to Irish win

MASSILLON – Maybe it’s time Zach Patton starts listening to his dad more.

It was the advice from his father that led to a key hit in the sixth inning of Ursuline’s Division III regional semifinal against Gilmour Academy.

The Irish trailed by four runs at one point, and things looked bleak as the bottom of the order came up with two outs in the sixth inning. A single and a walk brought up Patton, the Irish’s No. 9 hitter.

“I was just trying to hit the ball hard somewhere,” Patton said. “My dad always tells me that the first pitch is the best pitch you’re going to see. He threw a first pitch right down the middle, so I turned on it.”

Patton smashed a two-out, two-run double over the left fielder’s head to give Ursuline its first lead, and the Irish tacked on another run to finish a thrilling 7-5 comeback victory over the Lancers. Ursuline (11-10) plays in its third straight regional final at 5 p.m. today against Orrville, which beat Independence, 1-0, in 12 innings on Thursday.

Patton is the main reason the Irish are back in this position. He walked and scored in the third inning, singled in a run in the fourth inning and then cranked his two-run double to left in the sixth. While it might have been a surprise for some to see the last hitter in the order with three RBIs (he had six in his previous 20 games), Ursuline coach Sean Durkin wasn’t shocked at all.

“Zach’s got big hits for us all year,” Durkin said. “Obviously that’s the biggest one he’s got all year, but he’s kind of been a second leadoff hitter for us. He’s pesky and he gets on base.”

The Irish needed as many baserunners as possible because not much went right at the start. Ursuline committed two errors in the first three innings, leading to three runs and a 5-1 Gilmour lead. The Lancers (10-13) also took advantage of five walks by Irish starter Vinnie Lucente, who threw three wild pitches, two of which allowed runs to score. Lucente was pulled after 2 1/3 innings, and while reliever Joel Hake, who started the game at shortstop, also was a bit wild (four walks), he didn’t yield a run and let Ursuline get back in the game.

“I’ve never been a starting pitcher before, so I’m used to it (coming in from shortstop). It’s not that hard,” said Hake, who came in with runners at second and third, one out and Ursuline trailing 4-1. “I was just trying to throw strikes – I didn’t think they were going to hit the crap out of the ball against me. We just needed to get outs.”

Hake walked a run in, but he settled in after that and kept the Lancers scoreless. Ursuline chipped away at the lead, scoring two runs in the third on a two-out, two-run double by Michael Montalbano. The Irish made it a 5-4 game when Patton smacked his run-scoring single in the fourth, but after a 1-2-3 fifth and two quick outs in the sixth, the game seemed to be getting away from Ursuline. That’s when Logan Pullin singled and Gianni Quattro walked to set up Patton’s clutch double.

“You definitely feel a lot of pressure there,” Patton said, “but you’ve got to get up there, do your job and try to put the ball in play somewhere – make things happen.”

Gilmour brought the tying runner to the plate with one out in the seventh, but the Irish ended the game by turning a 4-6-3 double play. The Lancers missed opportunities to add on to their lead, leaving the bases loaded in both the third and sixth innings. They also lost their starting pitcher, left-hander Matt Botek, in the third inning because of an injury to his elbow. He had six strikeouts at the time.

“He felt something pop,” said Gilmour coach Jay Fowler, who added that Botek lost about 15 miles per hour on the next pitch – Montalbano’s two-run double. “I think, for both sides, it was pretty well-rounded game. It came down to when they had guys in scoring position, they got a big hit, and we missed on some.”

Ursuline can secure its second straight state appearance with a win today. The Irish lost in the state semifinal in 2013.