CANTON — Shortstop Kyle Michalik felt one word decided the Brunswick baseball team’s Canton Division I Regional semifinal against Mentor.
There was no changing it, either.
Mentor shortstop Corey Plavcan broke open a scoreless game with a two-run double in the top of the sixth inning, giving the Cardinals all the momentum they needed to pull off a 6-3 victory Thursday at Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium.
Mentor (23-5), which has reached the regional finals or better in football, boys basketball, baseball and softball, advances to face Aurora today at 5 p.m. after defeating the Blue Devils (21-10) for the third time this season.
It took a few unusual circumstances for the Cardinals to beat Brunswick again, but they happened, as they often do in this sport.
“It’s not a game of bad bounces. Baseball’s a game of fate, really,” a soft-spoken Michalik said. “You can’t really prevent that from happening.”
Brunswick left-hander Gerry Salisbury (5-4, 2.37 ERA) matched Louisville recruit Kade McClure (10-1) pitch-for-pitch over five-plus innings. Salisbury then slipped on grass while unsuccessfully trying to retire No. 9 hitter Nick Delisa on a bunt, setting the stage for the game-changing moment.
Delisa was promptly sacrificed to second by Albert Giebel (2-for-2) before Salisbury got a big out by inducing Brandon Kasberg into a pop-up. Blue Devils coach Todd Winston then elected to intentionally walk St. Bonaventure recruit Danny Trimble to set up a force out — a move Winston frequently makes with success.
The catch was Plavcan entered play hitting .422 with a team-high 29 RBIs.
Salisbury got ahead 0-2 before making his first true mistake: a belt-high fastball that Plavcan deposited into the left-center gap for a two-run double. Sam Vilk brought in Plavcan on an opposite-field single to left to make it 3-0.
Brunswick left two runners on in the bottom half of the inning, giving way for the Cardinals to pick up insurance runs on an RBI double from Kasberg, a sacrifice fly by Trimble and an RBI single by Plavcan.
They turned out to be important, as the bottom of the Blue Devils’ lineup made a last stand.
Catcher Brian Lees led off with a double to left and David Reiter Jr., who was playing for ill right fielder Gary Clift Jr., followed with a bloop single. Joey Verbiak then got Brunswick on the board with a seeing-eye single up the middle.
McClure bore down from there and nabbed Ryan Kuntz and Kyle Burson on swinging strikeouts — the latter was Burson’s second in 121 plate appearances — but Michalik answered with a crushed two-run double that short-hopped the 330-foot fence in left.
With the tying run on deck, McClure got Corey Welsh on a groundout to end the game.
“We don’t give up,” Michalik said. “That’s been our mentality all year. We’ve never given up one time. We bear down and fight to the end. I’ve never been one to go into a game down a couple runs and say, ‘We can’t do this.”’
From the start, it was evident the first bang-bang play was going to be the difference. Two days after committing to Ohio University, Salisbury stymied aggressive Mentor, as the first four innings were completed in a lightning-fast 38 minutes on 69 pitches.
Following a single by Giebel to begin the game, Salisbury no-hit the Cardinals until the Delisa bunt in the sixth. Defense was a contributing factor, as second baseman Burson was all over the place and Salisbury and catcher Lees calmly caught Vilk attempting to steal home with two outs in the third.
“(Salisbury) did phenomenal,” Verbiak said. “He did what he needed to do. He kept (Mentor) scoreless until late in that inning. We just didn’t give him run support.”
That was due in part to McClure’s clutch pitching, as five of Brunswick’s six stranded runners were in scoring position. Blue Devils hitters were 0-for-2 in the scenario in the second, third and seventh innings.
Adding to their frustration was the Cardinals’ defense. Center fielder Giebel robbed Verbiak with a diving catch in the left-center gap in the third, then ended that inning with a ground-eating sprinting catch against Welsh. Second baseman Kasberg stunned Lees by snaring a diving backhander in the fourth, and McClure batted down a rocket off the bat of Wheeler.
The last three plays came with runners in scoring position. A razor-thin fair-foul call that would have been a Wheeler RBI double was bitter icing on the cake.
“We couldn’t get the sticks going early,” Verbiak said. “I think if we would have taken advantage of a couple opportunities, it would have been a different outcome.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.