Greg Leurck has an opportunistic baseball team at Lakota West High School, and he’s not going to apologize for that.
Springboro may have deserved a better fate Saturday in a Division I district final at Centerville, but West is headed to the regional after battling its way to a 4-3 victory.
“We find a way. That’s the way we’ve been pretty much all year,” said Leurck, whose Firebirds improved to 23-5. “They did outplay us. They outhit us. They ran the bases well. Their pitching threw a heck of a game.
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“A lot of times you hate to see it come down to something like that, but I like to be on the right side of it too. We kept the pressure on them and found a way to do it. Even being down, we just kept believing.”
West erased a 3-1 deficit with three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Dominic Schivone lined a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to cut the gap to 3-2, and after Michael Medley walked (he worked his way back from an 0-2 count) to load the bases with two outs, Panthers coach Mark Pelfrey sent Tyler Kean to the mound to relieve starter Jon Snyder.
Eric Hooper greeted Kean with a first-pitch hard grounder right at shortstop Justin McConnell. The ball went through his legs and into left field, allowing two runs to score.
“He’s a good fastball hitter. I told him that this guy is a first-pitch fastball pitcher, so be ready,” Leurck said. “He did hit it hard.”
Hooper, a senior right fielder, said he didn’t see the error.
“It was a fastball. I made solid contact, but I probably could’ve hit it a little better,” Hooper said. “I took off and ran, and then I heard everyone go crazy. When I turned, the ball was in the outfield.”
Medley, the winning pitcher, slammed the door with a 1-2-3 seventh inning for the Firebirds. He retired all four batters he faced in relief of starter Max Kiker, getting a fly ball to escape a first-and-third jam in the top of the sixth.
Leurck praised both of his pitchers for their tenacity.
“Max is a big-time gamer,” the West coach said. “He doesn’t have the best ERA compared to a lot of other No. 1s and No. 2s, but he competes and keeps you in the ballgame so you have a chance to win it. Michael has been our top reliever all year, and he’s done a real good job of being able to throw his two pitches for strikes. We knew when we got down to the last couple innings that he was the guy to go to. That’s why we DHed him today, so he could be ready.”
Springboro doubled West in hits (8-4), but stranded nine runners.
“Sometimes baseball’s not fair. This is one of those days,” Pelfrey said. “I thought we played outstanding. I thought we competed. We just had a couple mistakes that happened at a bad time.”
Bryce Haberthier plated two runs, while McConnell and Josh Thompson both had two hits, for Springboro (19-10).
Schivone notched two RBIs and Jacob Kates added two hits for the Firebirds, who first loaded the bases in the sixth on singles by Kates and Chase Wullenweber and a walk to Brennen Martin. Kates scored the winning run.
“All year, we’ve tried to keep high energy and stay in ballgames,” Hooper said. “If we can keep the energy up, we think we’ll eventually find holes and score runs and get the win.”
Leurck said winning a district crown is a special feeling for him. It’s his first such title as a prep coach.
“I’m so proud of our guys because they’ve trusted in us and trusted the process,” Leurck said. “They’ve been a very team-oriented group with very good chemistry. They push each other to get better each day.”
The Panthers won the Greater Western Ohio Conference National West Division championship this season.
“We had a lot of seniors and a lot of kids back, so our expectations were pretty high,” Pelfrey said. “We went through some lulls early in the season and lost some games we probably shouldn’t have, but I thought we finished the year on a strong note and played very well the last half of the season.”
The Firebirds will meet another GWOC squad, Centerville, in a 2 p.m. regional semifinal Thursday at the University of Cincinnati’s Marge Schott Stadium.
Lakota West 000-103-x—4-4-3
WP — Michael Medley (3-0); LP — Jon Snyder (2-4). Records: S 19-10, L 23-5