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by Michael Leonard | Sports Editor
Akron -- Kenny Linn knew his Tallmadge baseball squad faced a huge challenge in the Akron Division II district baseball final May 21 at Canal Park.
Tallmadge's opponent, Woodridge, came in as the top seed and ranked No. 5 in the state in the most recent Division II state coaches poll.
Given those accolades, however, Linn believed all the pressure to perform would be on the Bulldogs in the final.
Unfortunately for Tallmadge, Woodridge coach Dennis Dever said his team felt loose coming into the final.
Woodridge's offense came to life midway through the game, as the Bulldogs scored an 11-5 win over the Blue Devils.
Tallmadge fell to 8-14 overall with one game left on its schedule.
In the end, all Linn could do was give credit to the Bulldogs.
"I tip my hat 110 percent to their coaching staff and their players," Linn said. "They're a very solid baseball team all the way around."
Linn said he felt he needed his team to strike first and the Blue Devils did just that.
In the top of the first inning, an RBI double from John Rensel and an RBI single from Matt Noel made it 2-0 Tallmadge.
However, Woodridge got a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. It was one of three double plays the Bulldogs turned in the first four innings.
"We hit it hard early," Linn said. "We did exactly what we needed to do. They just made a great play to stop our momentum."
That defensive help allowed Woodridge starter Kevin Kelleher to settle in.
The senior improved to 5-1 on the season by pitching 6-13 innings, allowing five runs on eight hits with three strikeouts.
By contrast, Tallmadge starter Jason Beaumont (3-4) took loss, as he lasted only 3-23 innings, giving up five runs on five hits. The Bulldogs hit the Blue Devils' bullpen hard.
Woodridge got one run back in the bottom of the first. Justin Whitely led off with a double and came home on a sacrifice fly by Christian Owens.
The Bulldogs' offense didn't really get going until the fourth inning.
Woodridge tied the game on a weird play.
Designated hitter Alex Shaheen hit what appeared to be a single to center.
However, Gray nearly caught the ball, forcing Tom Finegan had to hold up. Reacting quickly, Gray threw Finegan out at third.
The Bulldogs' Michael Walter scored to tie the game at two on the fielder's choice.
Woodridge then got a run-scoring single from Anthony Yacobucci to make 3-2.
After Whitely was hit by a pitch, Owens hit a two-run single to make it 5-2 and chase Blue Devils' right-handed starter Jason Beaumont off the mound.
The Bulldogs kept coming in the fifth inning. Kelleher led off with a double, followed by a single from Walter and an RBI single from Finegan.
After a sacrifice bunt, run-scoring singles from Shaheen and Yacobucci made it 8-2.
Tallmadge got an unearned run in the top of the sixth. Conor McVey singled, Rensel reached on an error and Noel hit a run-scoring single to make it 8-3.
However, Woodridge added three more in the bottom of the sixth to make it 8-3.
Tallmadge tried to rally in the seventh inning, as it got a run-scoring single from Will Woods and a running scoring ground out from McVey. Rensel then walked to load the bases.
However, Woodridge reliever Jackson Taylor got Noel to hit into a fielder's choice to end the game.
"It says a lot about the character of this team that we were able to get here," Linn said. "We could have thrown in the towel two weeks ago when nothing was going our way."
Tallmadge wet to close out the season at Cloverleaf May 23, but results were not available at press time.