Defense gentlemen. Defense wins championships. Throughout the season the Gilmour Lancers baseball team had been a work in progress on all fronts.
Lancers’ coach John Murphy brought the defense in to try and prevent the winning run from scoring, but senior second baseman Michael Perry smacked a perfectly placed groundball that sailed between third base and shortstop as the Lancers’ title hopes ended in a 1-0 loss to the South Range Cardinals in the Division III regional semifinals on June 4 at Carl Schroeder Field.
Defensive miscues showed up for the Lancers at the worst time. In the tenth inning of the scoreless game, junior right-hander Paddy Murphy tried to field a bunt by Cardinals’ senior righty Brandon Mikos.
South Range had a runner on first base so Mikos was trying to move him over in a scoreless affair. Murphy’s only play was to first base but he dropped the ball before he could make the throw, and South Range had runners on first and second. After junior third baseman Michael Markulin’s sacrifice bunt, Murphy intentionally walked senior catcher Trey Pancake, setting up Perry’s game-winning hit.
Murphy admitted that it was a tough loss to swallow. Gilmour had played stellar defense all game long and had received another dominant outing from its prized senior right-hander Ben DeMell as he hurled 7 1/3 scoreless innings while allowing only two hits, four walks and striking out five batters.
“He only struck out five but was able to make the big pitches when he had to make the big pitches and unfortunately in high school baseball you have a 125-pitch limit,” said Murphy. “The old rule was you could throw ten innings in three days but they changed that rule. Ben was able to record the first out in the eighth inning and then had to come out because of pitch count. It certainly was not because he was tired or certainly not because they were getting to him.”
Earlier in the season, the Lancers had faced the Cardinals with Murphy wanting his team to make a statement against a team it would most likely face in postseason play. DeMell pitched a no-hitter in the 4-2 victory, walking one and striking out nine.
After facing the 6-foot-4 Penn State commit, the Cardinals had a clear game plan against the Lancers’ ace, said Murphy. The South Range batters made it a point to swing the bat early in the count and not let DeMell get to two strikes. South Range did a good job putting the ball in play but the Lancers’ defense backed up DeMell by making several clutch plays to keep it a scoreless affair.
As good as DeMell was the Cardinals’ righty Mikos matched him pitch-for-pitch. Through the first two innings 17 of his 20 pitches were strikes. With the Cardinal ace throwing strikes, Murphy stressed to his team to be aggressive, but Gilmour did not get a hit until the fourth inning when senior designated hitter Charlie Shepherd got a single with one out.
With both pitchers virtually unhittable, coach Murphy said he knew this game was going to come down to one run. Gilmour had a chance for that one run in sixth inning when sophomore centerfielder Tommy McCrone reached base on an infield single with one out and then stole second base. After advancing to third on an error, but a groundball out by DeMell ended the threat.
“Ben hit a solid ground ball but it was unfortunately fielded by the shortstop,” Murphy said, “If that ball is two feet or even a foot over to that shortstop’s left then that ball’s through and then we’re up 1-0 going into seven. That was the ball game right there. That was our chance.”
While South Range avoided disaster from a fielding error, the same could not be said for the Lancers. Coach Murphy said it was a shame because the team had really played great defense leading up to the 10th frame.
Mikos went the distance and tossed ten innings while allowing just two hits and striking out 17 Gilmour batters.
“He did well,” the Lancers’ coach said. “He was not overpowering with his fastball, although it was a good fastball but he was able to mix his pitches very well and he kept our guys off base.”
Despite losing, Murphy expressed he could not have been more pleased with how the season turned out. Despite a rocky beginning, he was encouraged by the development of the underclassmen. While the pitching rotation will have a huge void next season as DeMell departs for Penn State, the Gilmour coach said the future is still bright for the Lancers as 18 varsity players will be returning, including four starting pitchers who helped lead the rotation to sport a 2.42 earned-run average. The Lancers’ strength has always been boasting one of the top pitching staffs in Northeast Ohio and Murphy said he sees no reason why that would not continue to be a trend next year.