Pop-ups doom Poland in loss

HUDSON – The Poland baseball team’s fate in the Division II regional semifinal was decided by a classic do-or-die situation at The Ballpark at Hudson Thursday night.

Poland trailed by one run against Woodridge with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning of a Division II regional semifinal with a runner on third. Marty Malenic started the inning with a five-pitch walk and advanced to third base after two groundouts.

Although Poland was able to move Malenic to third, it couldn’t get the big hit to bring him around to score.

With the game hanging in the balance, senior second baseman Chase Knodle smacked a pop-up fly to the center fielder for the final out of the game, handing Poland the 3-2 loss.

Woodridge pitcher Kevin Kelleher only had four strikeouts, but he continually mowed down batters and got Poland (19-6) to hit into 13 total flyouts. Poland hit the ball hard, but most of their line drives and fly balls found Woodridge’s leather.

“That’s not us, our thing is to hit them on the ground and use our speed,” Poland coach Rich Murray said. “Our game is small ball, and we popped up. We didn’t hit a ground ball until the sixth inning.”

Kelleher ran into a tense moment in the sixth inning when Poland’s bats finally broke through and scratched across a pair of runs, but they were too little too late. Junior Mike Walter then came on in the seventh to finish the job for Kelleher and pick up the save.

“I just did like coach always says, just deep breath, refocus,” Kelleher said. “I was leaving (my pitches) up and they were getting a better sight at the ball, so I just refocused and kept them low.”

Kelleher said he mixed pitches, alternating between the fastball and curveball, and changed speeds to keep Poland’s bats chasing and popping up.

“(Kelleher) kept us off balance, throwing his fastball, throwing his curveball, throwing a little knuckleball,” Murray said. “He pitched a hell of a game.”

The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder not only hurt Poland from the mound, but at the plate as well. He helped his own cause by driving in all of Woodridge’s three runs, one in the first inning and two in the third.

Woodridge (28-3) jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first thanks to an RBI single from Kelleher, and the team added two more in the third when Kelleher belted an RBI double. He registered two of Woodridge’s three hits off of Poland pitcher Pat Carlozzi.

“Couple of times he left the ball up, and we were able to get the barrel on it and square on it and find some gaps,” Woodridge coach Dennis Denver said.

Carlozzi, who had a bit of a pitcher’s duel going with Kelleher, went all seven innings with seven strikeouts and five walks. Murray said Carlozzi didn’t have his best day, but pitched better once he settled in after the third.

“He’s been good all year,” Murray said. “He ran seven straight games off for us. He’s our best, and he’ll be hard to replace next year.”

Murray then sighed, shrugged, shook his head and reverted back to the main story behind the loss.

“Just too many pop-ups, man,” he said.

Woodridge will face Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin at The Ballpark at Hudson at 5 p.m. today.