LORAIN - The Western Reserve Blue Devils are now one win away from the Division IV state final four after defeating the St. Thomas Aquinas Knights, 5-3, in a Div. IV regional semifinal game at The Lorain Pipe Yard Thursday night.
The Blue Devils (19-5) will face off against Cuyahoga Heights, in the regional final today at 5pm at the Lorain Pipe Yard. St. Thomas Aquinas ends the season at 18-9.
The plan all week for the Blue Devils was to pitch their ace Nick Allison (9-0), but lingering elbow soreness cost him the start just minutes before the game's first pitch. Stepping to the mound was fellow senior Tristan Bova, who gave up just three runs in five innings of work.
"He's (Allison) been having a little tender elbow issues, he felt it today, so we figured, 'we're not afraid to go with our two,' so we went with our two," Bova said. "All week long it's been up in the air," Bova said. "Coaches talking, players talking, and we didn't know because of the soreness in his elbow. So I knew coming into today there was that possibility that I could be on the mound, but until we got here on the field, Nick was the starter. So when they said 'Bova warm up' it threw me off a little bit, but I was ready for it. We scouted them a lot, and we knew they hit the ball. I knew if I leave it up, they're going to hit it. So first thing in my head was, 'go get warm, go get loose, and focus on getting the ball low,' and that's what I tried to do and the thing I focused on all day."
Bova, who gave up one run in the first, got some early redemption from his offense when Western Reserve scored three runs in the second.
Left fielder Evan Nesbitt led off the inning with the Blue Devils' first hit. Following a fielder's choice by right fielder Dan Zilke, freshman shortstop Wyatt Larimer who went 3-3 with an RBI and two doubles beat out a ground ball to second base for an infield single. Catcher Zach Smith followed with a walk to load the bases for first baseman Jon Timko, who delivered a double down the third-base line, driving in Zilke and Larimer. Smith scored the third run of the inning on a groundout by Walker Marlowe.
Timko's double got the Devils' to an early lead, which, according to him, was a big reason for the team's success.
"When I'm up to bat, I'm anxious a lot of the time and I find myself out in front," Timko said. "But the pitcher threw a nice fast ball and it was inside and I jumped on it and hit it down the third base line. I think it got our team excited. When we're up, we play so much better, when were not nervous we play our best baseball (so getting to an early lead) was pretty big."
A large Western Reserve crowd was on hand to support the Blue Devils, and the players took notice.
"(Getting ahead early) was a really big deal," Bova said. "It kept momentum, kept our crowd alive, kept our players up, kept it in their heads, getting in their ears, keeping everything loud, keeping everything alive. We all could tell from the start that they didn't like that. They didn't like how we got on top of them and kept our foot on the peddle."
Getting this far in the tournament for Western Reserve is, in large part, due to its experience and their "loose" style of play.
"A lot of it (season's success) is (from) experience," Western Reserve coach Ed Anthony said. "We have eight seniors on our team. None of them were here in 2010 when we were (at regionals) but the experience they've gained over the last few years, I definitely think they were pretty calm today. We played loose...we're a very loose bunch of guys and I think that senior leadership helped out."