LORAIN - Prior to stepping on the bus to head to The Lorain Pipe Yard for the Division IV regional final game, Western Reserve coach Ed Anthony predicted that his team would need five runs to beat Cuyahoga Heights.
Anthony needed to remind his players of that speech he gave in the locker room during the middle of the fourth inning with the Blue Devils in a four-run hole. Still struggling with elbow soreness, starting pitcher Nick Allison left after 3 2/3 innings, and on offense, Western Reserve had stranded five runners up to that point - four of which were in scoring position.
Things were looking a little bleak for the Blue Devils.
"When it was 4-0, I got them together and told them, 'Remember what I told you,' because their heads were down a little bit," Anthony said. " 'I said it's going to take five. Do they have five?' They said, 'No.' I said, 'We're going to win this game.' "
Three innings later, Anthony's prediction proved true, although the Blue Devils created a little more offense than he mandated. Western Reserve dominated in the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings, scoring eight runs to rally past the Redskins for a 8-4 win to claim the program's first-ever regional championship.
"It feels awesome," said John Clegg, who went 3 for 4. "We're going where no team has gone before."
The Western Reserve (20-5) comeback started when three consecutive Blue Devils connected on hits, which included senior Tristan Bova's double to drive in freshman Wyatt Larimer with no outs for their first run of the game. The next two batters drove in two more runs to cut the deficit to one run.
Bova said that at-bat gave Western Reserve some confidence going forward.
"We got a lot of younger guys playing - a lot of young bats in the lineup," Bova said. "They see a senior up there knocking in a couple of runs with a double, they want to do the same thing, and it worked."
Bova's contribution for the evening wasn't over yet, as the 5-foot-11 shortstop stepped to the plate the next inning in a pressure situation and delivered yet again.
With the bases loaded, one out and the game tied at 4, the No. 8 hitter drove a ball through the left side of the infield to score Evan Nesbitt, and following an errant throw home by the Cuyahoga Heights (17-7) third baseman, a second run came across in Larimer. Bova eventually scored the fifth and final run of the inning off a Dan Rosati single three batters later.
"Just put somewhere to try and get him home. Anything I could do to get him home - whether it's wear one off the shoulder, off the leg, walk, hit, just get him (Nesbitt) home was my mentality," Bova said of his plate appearance in the fifth. "We needed that run, and we got it."
That run support proved to be more than enough for Clegg, who relieved Allison on the mound. The 6-1 junior inherited two runners who scored in the top of the fourth off a Trent Gallo single along the right field line, but Clegg tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings following that. In fact, Clegg didn't give up another hit after the first batter he faced and only one other Redskin reached base safely.
"He had a good performance at the plate and he had performance (on the mound)," Anthony said of Clegg. "This is two games in a row he's come in and pitched two or three innings. I think he's given up one or two hits in (the outings)."
Cuyahoga Heights coach Marc Lowther credited Western Reserve's offense, but he also pointed to the Redskins' inability to get any runners on base late in the game as a big reason his team came up short.
"At times, we didn't get (hits) with guys in scoring position or didn't get guys on," Lowther said. "You got to get them on, get them over and get them in."
The Blue Devils now move on to face Newark Catholic at Huntington Park at 1 p.m next Thursday. This marks the four-consecutive year and the 13th time overall the Green Wave has qualified for the state final four.
Before they turn their sights on Newark Catholic, the Blue Devils are going to enjoy reaching a goal they set before their high-school careers.
"Our senior class, we've been dreaming about this since eighth grade," Bova said. "We wanted this senior class and this junior class to get here, and we got it."