So when the game poured into the 10th inning still scoreless, and the Pirates scratched across a run in the top half of the inning, Neill felt a strange anxiety come over him as Perkins moved within three outs of the state semifinals.
“I’ve sat on that bucket in a lot of dugouts, and I can honestly say — and I don’t know if it was nervousness — but there was something,” Neill said. “But I’ve never wanted to win a game more than I wanted us to win that game on Friday night in Tiffin”
The Pirates (26-5) — ranked No. 10 in the state coaches poll — will face No. 1-ranked Carroll Bloom-Carroll (27-2) at 7 p.m. Friday at Huntington Park in Columbus, the home of the Triple-A Clippers.
The winner advances to Saturday’s state championship game, also at 7 p.m.
Despite more than 400 wins and eight appearances in the Sweet 16, Friday will be just the second appearance at the state semifinals. Perkins also reached the semifinals in 2007, and fell to Canfield by a score of 4-2.
With nearly 20 years on the job, Neill knows this weekend could be his last trip to the final four.
“It’s not easy to get to this point, and I’m not any younger” Neill said. “I’ve got a great group of guys in my dugout that I want to be able to connect 15 years later and tell war stories about getting to Columbus.
“I really don’t know how many more years I’ll be around and doing this” he added. “Some of that anxiety is maybe a little selfish, but we’re going to Columbus because of a whole lot of tradition, work and help from a lot of guys who have worn the same uniforms that we have. My phone has been blowing up with messages from a lot of ex-players wishing us well, and that’s pretty neat”
The Pirates are facing a Bloom-Carroll team that finished Div. III runner-up last season. The Bulldogs are led by a 1-2 pitching combination of Corey Stanley and Sam Bordner, the latter who is already committed to Louisville and touches low 90s on his fastball.
Both pitchers are unbeaten this season.
Bloom-Carroll has allowed just two runs in five tournament games, though Perkins has been just as solid with three runs allowed. Both teams shutout a pair of opponents in their respective regionals.
Offensively, Bloom-Carroll is balanced, with all 10 batters who came to the plate in regional action each coming away with at least one hit. Six players reached base at least three times in the two shutout wins for the Bulldogs.
“We know they’re very good, making a second straight appearance in Columbus moving up from Division III last year,” Neill said. “They got two great pitchers and play very good defense. They are a little bit like us in they score enough runs to win games like that”
Neill — who will go with his same starting lineup from last week’s game vs. Bryan that includes Braun Miller on the mound — talked about getting an extra week of time in with his team.
“It’s fun to be out here another week,” he said. “Part of it all is we have a team getting along together, and it’s fun to be out here still. I like that we’re waiting all the way to Friday to play, because it’s good to be out here with a group of fun young guys.
“We’ve been able to work on some things we haven’t been able to in a while with the break in the schedule and the weather cooperating,” Neill added. “We’re just focusing on enjoying the moment and seeing if we can get another win on Friday”