Gilmour Academy’s one-through-four batters didn’t knock in any runs, but the Lancers still plated a baker’s dozen thanks to the depth of their order to win their first Division II region championship Saturday in Hudson.
Scoring five runs in the fifth and four more in the sixth, the Gilmour boys (24-6) defeated Cleveland Benedictine (23-8) by a 13-6 final to secure their program’s second state final-four berth, with the first coming in Division IV in 2008.
Designated hitter Marco Costabile collected two hits with a double, three RBIs and three runs scored out of the six-hole, while fellow Lancer junior Joey Hollis mirrored that stat line out of the seven-hole to motor their team’s offense.
“When some guys struggle one day, we all have each other’s back,” Costabile said. “Some days, some of us don’t hit as well and the other ones do. So, that’s been something that’s been happening all season long. And Joey pitching a great game kept those good Bengal batters in check, and we ended up with the victory.”
In six innings of work, Gilmour’s Hollis surrendered eight hits, three earned runs and five walks while striking out five Benedictine batters for the win on the mound.
Although the Division II state No. 10-ranked Lancers, according to the coaches poll, had a program-record 18-game win streak this season, they then lost four straight games entering the playoffs, including a 15-9 home affair against Benedictine on May 13.
“Just going into the (region) game, everyone thought of us as the underdog,” Hollis said. “That gave us motivation to kind of prove them wrong. So, it went well, and we did that.”
The Lancers didn’t waste any time getting a 4-0 jump on the Bengals with a two-out rally in the top of the first during their playoff rematch.
Gilmour senior two-hole hitter Jack Krebs connected on a single to left, before senior cleanup Nick Christopher was hit by a pitch on a full count, junior Garrett Olsen hit an RBI single to center, Costabile hit an RBI single to right and Hollis broke open the game on a two-RBI double to left.
“It was a high fastball, up and in,” Hollis said of his double. “I think it was actually a ball, but I went for it, because I was really aggressive at plate. And, yeah, I just connected with it and pulled it down the left-field line, and it felt good when I got to second and saw everyone cheering. It was a great feeling.”
Benedictine attempted to provide a quick answer with back-to-back singles to start out the bottom of the second, but Hollis stranded both Bengals by way of a fly-out to right fielder Krebs, a line-out to Krebs and a strike-out.
“I did have a little bit of nerves going into the game, but definitely that four-run lead helped me relax on the mound,” Hollis said. “When there were two guys on, I just stayed relaxed, I kept my composure and just didn’t let that affect me. I just threw strikes and let my defense go to work.”
But, in the bottom of the third, Benedictine’s offense erupted with five runs to take a 5-4 lead. Truth be told, three of those runs came unearned with a pair of Gilmour fielding errors that inning.
When Gilmour lost to Benedictine in the regular season, 15-9, the Lancers beat themselves with three errors to allow seven unearned Bengal runs.
“Fortunately, we were able to bite first and take the 4-0 lead,” Costabile said of Saturday’s game. “But we knew we had to keep scoring to win that game, because they’re a high-powered offense.
“And that third inning was tough. We had a couple errors. But one of the things that we’ve been very well at recently and throughout the season was keeping a good mindset, and that’s what my coaches, as well as my teammates, have trained ourselves to do.”
The momentum swung back in Gilmour’s favor when the Lancers erupted for five runs in the top of the fifth to take command of a 9-5 upper hand.
Junior one-hole batter Matt Christopher led off the inning by getting hit by a pitch – he’d wear three pitches before the end of the game – Krebs connected on a double, the elder Christopher was intentionally walked, and Olsen grounded out to first to bring in the tying run with two outs.
After that, Costabile connected on a two-RBI double to center to provide the Lancers a 7-5 lead and knock Benedictine sophomore starter Ronnie Schultz off the mound after 4 2/3 innings.
“It was just a crazy moment that I’ll never forget,” Costabile said about providing the eventual game-winning runs. “It was just, my teammates had my back the whole time through, and the pitcher just kind of threw one right in my wheelhouse, and I was able to get a good piece of it. It was just a crazy moment. It felt really good to take out their starter.”
Up next, Hollis reached base on an E5, sophomore eight-hole hitter Vinny Bandwen hit an RBI single to right, and junior nine-hole hitter Ty Plucinsky reached base on a third-strike wild pitch with Hollis stealing home on that same pitch.
“When I was at third, it was a curveball, and I read it right away and knew it was going to be in the dirt,” Hollis said. “I just hoped the catcher wouldn’t block it, and he didn’t. So, it got by him, I got a good jump and scored to get an extra run.”
After Hollis left two Bengals stranded in the bottom of the inning, the Lancers’ offense went back to work in the sixth and pounded home four more runs to take a 13-5 lead.
Sophomore three-hole hitter Ben DeMell led off with a single, the elder Christopher doubled to center, and Costabile was intentionally walked to load the bases with one out.
Making Benedictine pay, Hollis lined an RBI single to center, Vinny Bandwen hit an RBI single to center, senior pinch hitter Anthony Bandwen grounded out to plate another run, the younger Christopher was hit by a pitch, and then Hollis stole home on a passed ball.
“When they intentionally walked Marco, I was extremely confident and almost laughing when I was going up to the plate,” Hollis said about the chip on his shoulder. “And then I made it count and had to prove them wrong.”
In the bottom of the sixth, Benedictine got one run back to cut its deficit, 13-6, but the Lancers got out of the inning when the elder Christopher gunned down a would-be Bengal stealer at third base and Hollis forced a ground-out to third baseman Olsen.
Benedictine got two runners aboard in the seventh, but the younger Christopher came in for relief to finish out the final three outs. Moving from the mound to second base, Hollis actually flipped a ground ball to reliever Christopher for the final out at first.
“When I saw the ball coming to me, I was like, ‘Yes, I get the chance to end it,’” Hollis said. “I just fielded it and saw Matt coming over, made sure I made a good throw and Matt touched the base.
“And then everyone threw their gloves in the air, and everyone was spraying water everywhere and just screaming. It was great. It was indescribable.”
With the regional title, the Gilmour boys advance to play the St. Clairsville Red Devils (20-10) in the state semifinals at 10 a.m. Saturday at Canal Park in Akron.
The winner will play either state No. 1-ranked Dayton Chaminade Julienne or No. 8-ranked Van Wert in the championship game at 4 p.m. Sunday in Akron.