All season the Lakota West High School baseball team has played with a chip on its shoulder, determined to earn respect under the motto “shock the world.”
Friday night at the University of Cincinnati’s Marge Schott Stadium, the Firebirds took another step in their quest, notching a pair of unearned runs to shock St Xavier 2-1 in a Division I regional championship game.
West (25-5) advances to the state semifinals for the first time since 2008, facing top-ranked Massillon Jackson at 4 p.m. next Friday at Huntington Park in Columbus.
DIVISION II: Ross blanked by DeSales in regional semi
DIVISION II: Wissman leads CJ to regional title game
DIVISION III: Carlisle falls in eight-inning heartbreaker
“You know, we didn’t know what to expect coming into the season,” West coach Greg Leurck said. “I told them, ‘It is up to you guys to go out, play as a team and shock the world.’ So far this season, we have done that. It wasn’t easy, but it feels good to get to state. It was just a great high school ballgame. (Former coach) Bill Dreisbach said he beat Xavier here and we have to do it again, and we did.”
Backed by a stellar defense that made plays all afternoon, West sophomore Max Kiker pitched his first complete game of the year, scattering six hits while striking out two.
“My job was to throw strikes, stay positive and let the guys behind me make plays,” Kiker said. “My curveball was really working. I had to rely on it since St. Xavier is a really good hitting team. We have had some key players get hurt and we were ranked 13th in the city, but I guess after today we are the best in the city.”
Kiker faced little trouble from the Bombers, who never adjusted to the right-hander. Kiker gave up a run-scoring double in the third inning but only two baserunners thereafter to lock down the win.
“(Kiker) didn’t look like a sophomore today,” Leurck said. “He pitched a great game and kept the pressure on them.”
West managed four hits off hard-luck loser Sam Kendall, but took advantage of four Bombers errors for both runs.
In the first inning, Chase Wullenweber reached on an error and came all the way around to score on a single by Brennen Martin that was mishandled in the outfield.
In the fourth, West again took advantage of shoddy fielding. Frankie Schmitt reached on an error, advanced to second on a throwing error and moved to third on a ground out. With a squeeze play on, the Bombers were called for a balk and Schmitt danced home while St. Xavier coach Bob Sherlock had some words with the home-plate umpire.
“We won a game this year on a call like that, and now we lost a game like that,” Sherlock said. “He called a balk. Our pitching gave us a chance to win tonight. Our hitting didn’t come through.”
“The balk was big,” Leurck said. “It was unfortunate it comes down to that, but we have played small ball all year. We like to put a lot of pressure on teams and we did there.”
After West regained the lead, it was all defense and Kiker, who retired the last nine batters.
“I had a great defense behind me and I love playing with these guys,” Kiker said. “This is just such a great team to play with.”
Martin had two hits for West, while Schmitt not only scored the winning run but had a hand in seven putouts from second base.
Michael Cleary had two hits and the lone RBI for the Bombers, who concluded the season 22-5. Pete Fisher had two hits and Andy Mills scored the only run.
St. Xavier 001-000-0—1-6-4
Lakota West 101-000-x—2-4-0
WP — Max Kiker (3-1); LP — Sam Kendall (6-1). Records: S 22-5, L 25-5
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