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Small ball leads baseball to Elite Eight

By FRANK ACETO Associate Sports Editor Published: June 4, 2017 12:00 AM
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HUDSON -- When the millennium began, the Tallmadge baseball team was a regular at the Division II state tournament.

The Blue Devils tasted defeat twice in the state championship game before winning their only state title in 2002.

However, since those days, Tallmadge has not made the glorious trip down south to the state capital.

In fact, the Blue Devils hadn't even made it to the Elite Eight.

On May 26, Tallmadge finally ended its Sweet Sixteen hex.

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The Blue Devils advanced to their first Elite Eight in 15 years after earning a hard-fought 3-1 victory over Chardon Notre Dame Cathedral Latin.

The Division II regional semifinal contest took place at The Ballpark at Hudson.

While it had been 16 years since the two teams last met in a meaningful postseason game, Tallmadge got some revenge against the Lions.

NDCL defeated the Blue Devils 8-0 in the 2001 Division II state title game.

Since then, Tallmadge made it to the regional semifinals four times prior to May 26.

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The Blue Devils lost all four of those games.

"It feels great," 14th-year Tallmadge head coach Kenny Linn said. "A lot of things had to happen. These kids have really bought in and this is the best win we have this year. It came at the right time."

Junior right-hander Mikah McGlaughlin, who entered the game in the sixth inning for right-handed starter Zach Boyd, got the final four outs to pick up the win. McGlaughlin improved to 4-1 on the season.

"Zach and Mikah have been outstanding," Linn said. "Mikah has been in that role all year. He didn't play last year. You watch him and he always has a smile on his face. That kid has ice in his veins.

"Zach has been doing what he has been doing for three years. We felt really good about Zach going to the mound because of his mound experience and the opportunities that he has had."

Tallmadge was able to get two clutch runs in the top of the seventh with some small-ball tactics.

With the score tied at one, sophomore left fielder Sam Seeker got things started with a ground ball that went off Lions' senior pitcher Jake Butler's glove.

Since the ball ended up landing just behind the mound, Seeker easily made it to first safely.

And then the Blue Devils got the go-ahead run without taking a full swing.

Sophomore catcher Rich Eyre moved Seeker into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt and then shortstop Phil Glasser, Tallmadge's leadoff batter, followed with a bunt single toward the third-base side to put runners on the corners.

The bunt festival didn't end there.

The next batter, junior right fielder Seth Gergely, executed a bunt single toward third base to score Seeker.

"I was standing in the on-deck circle and I knew it was coming," Gergely said. "I gave the coach the nod. I felt it was coming after the sixth inning when Mikah got out of that situation in the field.

"We established in practice a few days ago that if you give me the nod, a play was going down. So I gave the coach the nod and he gave me the nod back. I tried to play the bunt hard between the third baseman and the pitcher and it happened that way."

Boyd finally decided to swing away after the three straight bunts.

Such a strategy proved beneficial.

Boyd smacked a bloop single toward left field off the end of the bat to score Glasser and make it 3-1.

"It was so much fun," Boyd said. "Once we got the first guy on, I knew we were going to bunt him over and then work on small ball to score at least one run. I feel so excited and humbled that this team is able to get to a regional final."

Butler got the second out on the next batter and left-handed reliever Brendan Hofacre ended the inning by getting a ground out.

Nonetheless, the Blue Devils had all the momentum at that point and McGlaughlin and his teammates made sure they kept it.

McGlaughlin got the Lions out in the order in the bottom of the seventh, including a strikeout on the last batter of the game, catcher Julian Mangelluzzi.

Prior to the seventh, NDCL (13-10) struck first when starting right-handed junior pitcher Joe DiMattio had a run-scoring single with two outs in the bottom of the third.

Tallmadge also got its first run with two outs.

After DiMattio retired the first two batters, he walked junior center fielder Jared Burick.

Burick didn't stay at first for very long.

That's because junior second baseman Jake Rensel tied the game at one with a run-scoring triple toward the fence in right center.

Rensel has been clutch for much of the postseason. Not bad for a resilient athlete who was not a full-time starter earlier in the season.

"I was just trying to hit it in the gap and get the run in," Rensel said. "I just kept my head up and worked hard."

"The Rensel family has baseball in their blood," Linn said. "Jake's older brother John is at Eastern Michigan and is trying to help them in the MAC [Mid-American Conference] Tournament. Jake is a hard worker who waited his turn to get in the lineup."

Boyd struck out three batters, walked three and hit a batter in 5-2/3 innings of work. He allowed all seven of the Lions' hits.

"My coach wanted to take me out on the first visit," Boyd said. "I said, 'Come on, coach.' He said, 'You tell me, captain.' I was happy he trusted me."

DiMattio pitched the first five innings for NDCL. He finished with two strikeouts and walked five batters.

Tallmadge had six hits and no errors. The Lions also did not commit an error.

NDCL stranded nine runners while the Blue Devils left seven runners on base.

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