PARMA — Keystone won its third consecutive Division III district championship, but it needed some late magic to pull it off.
Junior Korey Horne’s two-run single capped a three-run rally in the top of the seventh inning to give Keystone a lead it would make stand up in a 7-6 win over Elyria Catholic.
Keystone (23-7) moves on to face Youngstown Ursuline in a regional semifinal May 30 at 2 p.m. at Massillon Washington High School.
Panthers’ pitcher Daniel Whitacre thought he had Horne struck out twice, throwing a pair of two-strike curveballs that looked to bend over the inside of the plate. The home plate umpire, however, didn’t see things the same way and called them balls.
Finally, after Horne fouled off five full-count offerings, he turned on an inside fastball and drove it into the left-centerfield gap. Horne was held to a single, but Colin Fitzgarald and Marcus Gunter scored to give the Wildcats the lead.
“He had a tight zone all game and I knew that going into the inning,” Whitacre said of the plate umpire. “I didn’t know where those two pitches were. … They must have been a little high because he had a low, tight zone. I guess I didn’t get them low enough.”
The Panthers (15-14) made things interesting in the bottom of the seventh. After Joey Begany struck out to start the inning, senior Ian Kovacs was hit by a pitch. Sophomore Noah Bland flew out to right field for the second out, then Luke Redmond appeared to hit a game-ending grounder to third baseman Tyler Gullett.
Gullett took his time and made a strong throw. Too strong as it turned out. The ball went over Horne’s head and down into the right-field corner. Kovacs made it to third and Redmond to second, then Keystone right fielder Cameron Schumann’s throw went over Gullett’s head at third.
Kovacs scored and Redmond advanced to third, but with two outs Christian Stanziano’s slow roller to shortstop was fielded by Kendle Stiner, who threw to Horne at first. Stanziano went into the bag head-first, but was called out on a bang-bang play to end the game.
Keystone coach Bert Fitzgerald was proud of how Horne battled in the critical seventh inning.
“What an at-bat,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s been sick with strep throat and looked terrible at the plate yesterday, but that last at-bat was something special. He fought off a lot of tough pitches and was just looking to put something in play.
“He got his pitch and turned on it and hit it hard. That was huge for us.”
“It was a great game,” Elyria Catholic coach Bruce Lisicky said. “There were some close calls out there … three at first base that went against us, but that wasn’t why we lost the game. Those kinds of breaks are part of baseball. … You have to take advantage of them when you get them and overcome them when you don’t.”
Lesicky was pleased with how his team continued to battle.
“We were able to minimize the damage there in the top of the seventh,” he said. “We fought back and had the tying run at third. You have to give Keystone credit. They made the plays when they had to.”
Ursuline, which won the Struthers district title with an 11-1 win over Canfield South Range, rolled to the championship by a combined 50-4 score.
“Ursuline is a good team … a really good team,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re looking forward to it.”
Contact Mike Perry 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.