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Pirates play small ball to win another district title

Mark Hazelwood • Aug 27, 2014 at 2:36 PM

It was classic baseball.

Perkins put the ball in play, and kept the pressure on the bases in Saturday's Division II district championship against Ontario at Mansfield Madison High School.

It forced Ontario to make good pitches and plays in the field, and the Warriors were unable to do so as the Pirates blew open a tight game for an 11-1 win in six innings.

With the win, Perkins (24-4) — ranked No. 10 in the state coaches poll — advanced to Thursday's 5 p.m. regional semifinal against No. 7 Keystone (24-5) at Tiffin University's Heminger Field. The No. 18-ranked Warriors close the season at 20-4.

It's also the eighth regional appearance for Perkins in coach Ray Neill's 19 seasons, and the ninth overall in program history.

In Saturday's win, the Pirates scored six runs on an infield single, a wild pitch, two passed balls and an error.

“It was classic baseball, putting the ball in play, putting the pressure on them,” Neill said. “Obviously against a team like Ontario, you have to take advantage of those situations. Today was all about being relaxed. We didn't talk about pressure, but just going out and having fun. We got a lot of guys in the dugout who had been here before. Maybe not on the baseball diamond, but on the basketball court and the football field.

“We were just going to go out and have fun today, and enjoy the moment,” he added. “I couldn't be prouder of a group of guys who went out there and did it.”

With the game tied at 1-1 entering the bottom of the fourth inning, Perkins put the pressure on the base paths to get some breathing room.

Kyle Lewis was hit by a pitch, and was sacrifice bunted to second by Braun Miller. Lewis then advanced to third on a wild pitch, and with the infield pulled in, Connor Mapus hit a grounder to the edge of the grass at shortstop for an RBI infield single that scored Lewis for a 2-1 lead.

Dale Irby was then also hit by a pitch, and a Tyler Puckrin ground out advanced pinch runner Cody Best and Irby to second and third. Both runners then scored in succession on a wild pitch and a passed ball to make it 4-1 — giving the Pirates three runs in the frame without a ball leaving the infield.

In the fifth, Devin Dubbert drew a walk to start the inning, and was sacrifice bunted to second by Thane Walton. Luke Fraley then singled to put two runners on.

Kyle Lewis then struck out swinging, but with the ball in the dirt, Lewis sprinted hard out of the box and forced a throw to first by the Ontario catcher. The throw was off-line and hit Lewis in the back, allowing him to go to second and for Dubbert to come around and score.

With Fraley and Lewis at second and third, Mapus then delivered a key blow with a two-run single to right-center that made it a 7-1 game.

In the top of the sixth, Perkins starter Braun Miller ran into a bit of trouble, after relatively coasting through the Ontario lineup through five innings. Miller walked two and hit a batter to load the bases with two outs in the sixth, so Neill turned to Fraley to get the final out.

On a 3-2 pitch, Fraley froze the batter for a called third strike to keep the Pirates up 7-1. Miller allowed one unearned run on four hits in 5 2/3 innings, striking out eight and walking two. Of the 23 batters faced, Miller threw 15 first-pitch strikes.

“I just knew I had to come out throwing strikes,” Miller said. “The defense was going to be there behind me, they step up every time I pitch. Luke came in and threw strikes like he always does, even coming off starting just two days ago. That's a hard thing to do there.”

Neill talked about the move to bring in Fraley, noting the two pitchers are used to following each other.

“Braun was really good for a long time today,” Neill said. ““When he's throwing it confidently, he's very, very good. But there are times when that shell becomes a little shaken, and it's my job to know if, when and why to get him out of there.

“And of course when you're fortunate enough to have a guy like Luke Fraley behind him, you go do it, just as we did the other day (Thursday vs. Lexington),” he added. “Luke was out there Thursday, and we went to Braun. They both got near the 90-pitch count and it was time to go to their buddy instead.”

The Pirates put the game away an inning early with four runs in the bottom of the sixth.

Tanner Trent led off with a single, and advanced to second when Walton drew a one-out walk. Fraley then hit an RBI single to score Trent, and Walton came around to score on an error when the ball was bobbled by the second baseman, which made it a 9-1 advantage.

An RBI double by Lewis made it 10-1, scoring pinch runner Trenton Adkins. After Dawson Nason was hit by a pitch, Mapus then ended the game with an RBI single — his third straight hit and fourth RBI of the game.

“There is no better feeling, besides the fact we're saving the pitch count there for Luke,” Mapus said of the final hit to end the game. “To run rule a good team like that in a district final is a good feeling, it just came off the bat well today … can't ask for a better day at the plate.”

Followed by Mapus, Lewis was 2 for 3 with two RBIs for the Pirates, and was on base all four times by reaching on the passed ball of a strikeout and being hit by a pitch. Dubbert was 2 for 3 with a walk, and Fraley added two hits and walked once.

“Everyone did their part in the lineup today,” senior catcher Tyler Puckrin said. “We were prepared for this game, and got it done. It's been the goal, getting back to regionals, especially after losing there the past two years. The third time is the charm, I guess. We're here.”

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