STRUTHERS-For the past 12 days, Western Reserve ace pitcher Nick Allison has been shelved due to elbow soreness.
However, when it came time for Friday's Div. IV district title game there was never a doubt who was taking the mound.
"I asked Nick last night how he felt, and all he said was 'Give me the ball'," Western Reserve coach Ed Anthony said.
Though he was not at his sharpest, the senior right-hander got better as the game went on and ground out seven solid innings as top-seeded Western Reserve defeated third-seeded Mathews 5-2 at Cene Park.
"I've been using a lot of ice for the past week, and today my elbow felt good," Allison said. "I was pretty sore towards the end of the regular season, but there was no way I was sitting today."
Western Reserve (18-5) will take on St. Thomas Aquinas-the top seed from the Barberton district-in a regional semifinal at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Pipe Yard in Lorain. Mathews finished 18-5.
It is the second district title in the last four years for the Blue Devils. Western Reserve won the Akron Div. IV district title in 2010 before losing in the regional semifinals.
"From day one, we made winning the district title a goal," Anthony said. "With six experienced seniors, it was something we thought was well within our reach."
Allison-who also quarterbacked the football team to the state semifinals-raised his record to 9-0 overall. He only struck out four, but walked none. After getting nicked for a pair of early unearned runs, Allison retired 12 of his last 13 batters.
"Winning here is just as good as football," Allison said. "It's all the same to me, I just love going out there and competing."
The Blue Devils wasted no time giving Allison a lead.
With one out in the bottom of the first, John Clegg ripped an RBI triple into the gap in right-centerfield. Jake Clark followed with an RBI groundout, making it 2-0. Zach Smith made the score 3-1 with a two-out RBI single in the second.
"We had problems with runners in scoring position yesterday against Lowellville, but we took advantage of our chances today," Allison said. "I was a little nervous starting out so it was nice to have a lead."
Mathews drew within 3-2 in the third, but missed an opportunity for more. With two outs and runners on first and second, Jeremy Forsythe singled to shallow right, but took too wide a turn around first and was tagged out by second baseman Walker Marlowe. Instead of the Mustangs having the bases loaded, the inning was over.
"After that inning, I settled in and felt more confident that we were going to win," Allison said.
Mathews scarcely made a dent in Allison over the last four innings. A two-out double by Cobie Pratt in the seventh was the only ball that reached the outfield for the Mustangs the rest of the game. The Blue Devils provided Allison additional breathing room on a squeeze bunt by Smith in the fourth and a sac fly by Clark in the fifth.
"I was hitting my spots a lot better late in the game," Allison said. "My splitter was really working. I was able to keep the ball down and let my defense work."
"Allison really settled in," Mathews coach Jared Terlecky said. "He had an arsenal of pitches and he was always around the zone. When you have someone with command of multiple pitches, it's really tough. He's as good as anyone we've faced."
An ITCL team has won the Struthers Div. IV district title seven straight years. Windham in 2007 was the last non-ITCL team to capture the title. Springfield (08, 09, 11, 12, 13) won five of those titles. Columbiana won in 2010.
Allison has allowed just two earned runs all season.
"People point out that we haven't played anybody, but Nick pitched against South Range (a game that was a 2-2 tie) and they didn't touch him either," Anthony said. "He has been dominant all year."
WR-Nick Allison, wp, (7IP, 4K, 0BB) and Zach Smith.
MA-Jeremy Forsythe, lp, (6IP, 4K, 1BB) and Cobie Pratt.