STRUTHERS-Through the first five innings of Thursday's Division IV district semifinal, the Western Reserve baseball team watched in frustration as opportunity after opportunity passed them by.
Fortunately for the Blue Devils, they were able to cash in when it really counted.
Zach Smith had a game-tying single in the sixth inning and Dan Zilke hit a walk-off triple in the seventh, as top-seeded Western Reserve rallied past seventh-seeded Lowellville 3-2 at Cene Park.
"I haven't hit the ball well in the last three games," a breathless Zilke said. "To come through in this situation is really exciting."
Zilke's clutch hit propels the Blue Devils (17-5) into a district final against third-seeded Mathews at 5 p.m. today at Cene Park.
Zilke at first didn't even realize he won the game and kept motoring to third even after Jake Clark slid across with the winning run.
"He kept coming to third, and I had to tell him the game was already over," Western reserve coach Ed Anthony said.
For the first part of the game, it looked like it wouldn't be Western Reserve's day, as the Blue Devils stranded nine runners in the first five innings. They entered the sixth trailing 2-1.
"We hit their starter (Tyler Barone) hard during the regular season," Anthony said. "We just couldn't get anything to drop in today."
Six outs away from the end of the season, Anthony summoned John Clegg off the bench to lead off the sixth, and the junior responded with a triple. Smith came up right behind him and tied it with a single to left.
"We had Clegg sitting the bench in case he had to pitch in relief," Anthony said. "I went to him and said it's your time."
With the score tied, Lowellville brought on side-arming right-hander Tyler Rotz. He got out of a first-and-third jam in the sixth with his arsenal of junk pitches, but he couldn't escape the seventh.
With one out, Clark singled to right, setting the stage for Zilke's cannon to deep right.
"It was a little different facing the side-armer," Zilke said. "I was just trying to make contact and get a hit, and it happened to be a triple."
Western Reserve beat Lowellville 12-2 and 10-0 in the regular season.
"This game is so unpredictable," Anthony said. "This time of year, everybody plays you tough, that's why you play the game. Lowellville should be very proud, they played us all the way to the end."
Nick Allison will pitch for the Blue Devils today. The senior is 8-0 with an era of 0.21.
This will be the first time since 2010 that Springfield does not win the Struthers Div. IV district title. The Tigers moved up to Div. III this season.
"I feel like we could play with anyone," Zilke said. "If Springfield were still here, I think we would still be capable of winning."
WR-Tristan Bova, wp, (7IP, 9K, 2BB) and Zach Smith.
LO-Tyler Barone (5IP, 4K, 2BB), Tyler Rotz (1IP, 2K, 0BB) and Nick Mico.