by Michael Leonard
Tallmadge -- It has been a trying season this spring for the Tallmadge baseball team, but the Blue Devils still found themselves in a familiar place May 20.
Tallmadge advanced to the Division II district final game by rallying to defeat Pepper Pike Orange 4-1 in a district semifinal game May 20 at Canal Park in Akron.
Blue Devils head coach Kenny Linn said his team's experience in big games from previous years probably helped.
"You can't play in a place like this and not expect some jitters," Linn said. "What we're used to is playing in big games like this."
Orange struck first as Lions first baseman Jake Kemelhar hit a run-scoring single in the top of the first inning.
However, that would be all that Tallmadge starting senior right-handed pitcher Chris Gray allowed. Gray (1-2) picked up his first win of the season, allowing one run off four hits and four walks in six inning of work. He had eight strikeouts in the win.
Gray said his curveball was working. He also said he was ready to play, having played two games in Canal Park previously.
Tallmadge's offense started slow, though Linn gave the Lions' credit for that.
"I thought their righty [Orange starter Landon Slomovitz] had enough stuff to keep us off balance," Linn said. "They made a couple of plays early on well-hit balls."
Tallmadge had a weird call go against them in the bottom of the fourth.
With two men on base, second baseman Conor McVey hit a slicing line drive down the right-field line, which he originally turned into an inside-the-park home run. However, after much discussion, the umpires called the ball foul.
McVey regained his composure and hit a run-scoring single to score Bill Woods and tie the game at one after four innings.
The Blue Devils took the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth.
With a runner on third, center fielder Tyler Duben smacked a run-scoring double to left center to make it 2-1. After senior Jason Beaumont walked, Woods hit a run-scoring single to score Duben.
Beaumont eventually scored on an error to make it 4-1.
"You love to have the momentum early, but if you had to choose between the two, you'd rather have it late," Linn said. "Our guys did a great job staying focused."
Gray made sure Tallmadge kept the momentum by retired the side in order in the sixth.
Woods then came on in the seventh inning and retired the Lions in order to get the save.
The Blue Devils finished 5-8 in the Suburban League after losing a 7-3 decision to Cloverleaf at Dave Young Field.
The Colts scored seven runs in the top of the third to put it away.
Duben, Woods and John Rensel each had two hits and an RBI.
Beamont, Gray and seniors Nick Carey and Tristan Clark were honored prior to the game.