COLUMBIA TWP. — If his team wins a third straight Patriot Athletic Conference Stripes Division title next year, Columbia baseball coach Justin Ramsey would be wise to avoid playing Black River in the first round of the tournament for the third straight time.
Hitless through five innings and still down a run after six, the never-say-die Pirates shocked the Raiders with a four-run seventh to record a 5-3 victory Tuesday in Parma Division III Sectional semifinal action.
A year ago, Black River beat Columbia 5-4 in the first round of postseason play.
“Absolutely,” Ramsey said when asked if he felt snake-bitten. “Two straight years, we win the conference and lose to them in the tournament. Two straight years, one and done.”
After five innings, the Pirates (10-15) looked like they had no chance against the Raiders (12-12), who were getting a no-hitter from No. 2 starter Jacob Simon.
Black River finally got a hit when cleanup man Glen Crabtree doubled deep to left with two outs in the sixth, and he came around to score on a single by Ted Bowersock to make it 2-1.
All heck broke loose in the top of the seventh, when a combination of bloops, seeing-eye singles and a few decent blasts resulted in five hits, four runs and, for the second straight year, a first-round tournament upset for the Pirates.
“That’s about as fun as it gets,” said Black River coach Dozier Hendershot, whose team will play for a sectional title today at Elyria Catholic. “Winning is what we’re here for. Winning in the tournament makes it that much sweeter.”
Winning pitcher Branden Tomes (3-5), who has been struggling so much he’s been getting replaced in the order by a designated hitter, started the winning rally with a one-out double to right-center.
“That was the most beautiful swing I’ve had in forever,” the left-hander said with a huge smile.
Tomes’ hit, just Black River’s third of the afternoon, marked the end of the day for Simon, who walked two batters (one intentionally), hit two others and struck out eight.
Ramsey brought in hard-throwing Michael Boey (2-6), who would have started today against Elyria Catholic, and suddenly every ball the Pirates hit found a hole.
“He’s been our ace all year,” Ramsey said of Boey, who gave up four hits and three runs in two-thirds of an inning. “He’s been our go-to guy. We wanted to shut it down right there. It just didn’t go our way.”
No. 9 hitter Nick Sas didn’t take much of a swing at Boey’s first offering, but he blooped an opposite-field single down the right-field line to score Tomes and tie the game.
“We were joking with Sas because it was the same situation last year,” Tomes said. “He didn’t hit it hard, but it got the job done. We call it our 7-8-9 magic.”
One team’s magic was another’s misfortune.
“He stuck the bat out and found a gap,” Ramsey said. “What are you gonna do?”
Leadoff man Nick Filak singled under the glove of third baseman Tyler Underwood to put runners on first and second before Tyler Sexton, who had struck out in his previous two at-bats, delivered a clutch hit up the middle to plate pinch-runner Alex McIntyre and put Black River up 3-2.
“I was thinking not to think,” Sexton said. “The whole game, I was seeing the ball great. I trusted myself and just waited for the right pitch.”
After a fielder’s choice groundout, Crabtree plated two more runs with another single to give the Pirates a little breathing room.
Columbia, which scored an unearned run in the second and got an RBI double from Underwood in the third, got doubles from Kevin Simon and Boey to make it a 5-3 game in the seventh, but Tomes ended things by getting John Cordell to fly out to left.
“He’s always great,” Sexton said of Tomes, who gave up two earned runs and six hits while walking two, hitting a batter and striking out three. “His mental approach tells what kind of game he’ll have. If he goes to the mound thinking he’s going to have a good game, he’ll have a good game.”
Hearing that, Tomes said, “I told myself today was going to be a good game.”
The 5-foot-6 southpaw wasn’t overpowering, but used a curveball and changeup to set up his fastball and keep Columbia hitters off-balance.
“We’re a team that never gives up,” the senior said. “This team has so much heart, you wouldn’t believe it. We kept it together and told ourselves we were going to win this game.
“We’ll bring the same mentality (against Elyria Catholic) as we had today. Records don’t mean anything come playoff time. If we come out and show our true colors, we can be one dang good team.”
The Panthers are the No. 2 seed in the West portion of the Parma District, but the Pirates won’t be lacking confidence after eliminating Columbia for the second straight year.
“I don’t think our record shows how good we really are,” Sexton said. “We can be amazing, but then all of a sudden we just don’t play. This is where we can show everyone how good of a team we really are.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.