Tigers survive late rally, advance to regional final

Huron will face No. 2 Coldwater at 5 p.m. today for spot at state
Kelsey Pence
May 30, 2014
Jack Hufnagle and Kyle Kovach both called it a stepping-stone for Huron baseball.
 
The Tigers advanced to a Division III regional championship game with a 3-2 win over Millbury Lake Thursday, withstanding a two-out rally from the Flyers in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The No. 25-ranked Tigers (21-7) will face No. 2 Coldwater (27-4) at 5 p.m. today in their first regional final appearance since 2001, when they lost to Lake at Findlay.

The winner of today’s game advances to Thursday’s state semifinal game at 7 p.m. at Huntington Park in Columbus. “It’s a big rush of emotion,” Hufnagle said. “Getting back to the regionals in baseball, because we were in the regionals for football and basketball, it’s just awesome”

The Tigers had a 3-0 lead over the Flyers heading in to the bottom of the seventh inning.

Kovach struck out the first batter, but Lake got a hit and then put another on base with a Huron error. Tommy Bogden took over on the mound and struck out the first batter he faced, but things got sticky for the Tigers.

Lake’s Connor Bowen loaded the bases with a hit, and Flyer standout Jayce Vancena smacked his fourth hit of the night to make it 3-1 with just one out. Anthony Pratt then walked to make it a 3-2 game.

Nick Walsh was up next for the Flyers, and after two straight balls and a strike, the senior grounded out, and the Tigers breathed a sigh of relief.

“Never a dull moment with high school kids” Huron coach Sam Hohler said with a chuckle. “Our kids are just scrappy. I can’t say enough about it. I had a hockey player out there to close the game. I had an all-state football player behind the plate.

“Our kids have been to the regional in football and the regional in basketball,” he added. “(Keegan Bollenbacher) is our shortstop and he has been to state in golf. They enjoy moments like that. When we went out and talked, Zach (Souter) brought up the fact that where else would you want to be than with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and a chance to make a play to win a tournament game”    The Tigers scored two runs in the top of the first inning, but the winning run came on a trick play in the fifth.

Lake intentionally walked Hufnagle, who went 2 for 2 in his first two at-bats. Bollenbacher then singled to center, but was tagged out on a fielder’s choice by Souter. With runners at first and third, Souter initiated a run down and Hufnagle took off for home plate. Lake’s Anthony Pratt made an errant throw on the play and the Tigers scored what proved to be a much needed run.

“Clyde did that to us earlier in the year where they snuck the guy off of first and got in a run down,” Hohler said. “They scored on it and ended up beating us. We’ve worked that in practice a little bit throughout the year. Our assistant coach (Dan) Lindsley likes that play and is always asking me to get that in there. That’s why we did it. Luckily for us — unfortunately for them — their guy dropped the ball and we were able to squeeze a run in”

Added Hufnagle: “There were lots of butterflies going on that’s for sure. You’re just waiting for the right moment to go and the kid just happened to drop the ball, and there it was. Without that run it could have been a totally different game. Props to that pitcher, he’s probably going to go pro some day.”

Vancena, Lake’s starting pitcher, has a full ride to the University of Michigan, and enough hype to make any team nervous. He went 4 for 4 on the day and struck out eight from the mound.

“I knew we would be able to hang in there because our team chemistry is unbelievable” Kovach said. “They have a good pitcher and I knew that would create a lot of hype, but we just had to come out confident, and that’s what I think we did”

Hohler agreed with his pitcher.

“We knew coming in that their guy was a good player,” he said. “Our kids were kind of joking with each other how the ball whizzed when it went by them into the mitt. But that’s just been us all year, clutch hitting. We find ways to score runs and play good defense behind it”

Kovach gave up seven hits, while striking out nine and walking just two in 6 1/3 innings of work.

“Kyle has been our ace all year, and he was last year as a freshman, so he’s pitched in big ball games for two years” Hohler said. “We play in a very tough league. His two losses this year were to Perkins and Clyde. He’s been solid all year for us. The kids around him just played good D. They just feed off each other and it’s been a lot of fun.“I think the big thing with Kyle being on the mound is Zach behind the plate,” Hohler said of Souter. “Zach is a four year starter, he’s been all-district for three years. He just keeps Kyle focused and in the moment so Kyle doesn’t play like a sophomore — he plays more like a junior or senior”

The Flyers (27-4) had runners in scoring position in four separate innings, but the Tigers ‘stingy defense never let up.

Hufnagle finished with two hits, while Kovach, Bollenbacher, Bogden and Souter each had one.

“Our kids just played hard,” Hohler said. “That’s what we’re about and what we’ve done all year. We don’t have any superstars, but it was a great game today. This is just a great group of kids. They needle each other like brothers”

Huron 200 010 0 — 3 6 2
Lake   000 000 2 — 2 7 3

WP: Kovach; LP: Vancena 2B: Vancena