COLUMBUS — With runners on second and third base and a tie score, Shane Hilgefort got the sign from Fort Loramie coach Jeff Sanders.
“He told me to hit it to the opposite field, which I’m not very good at,” Hilgefort, a junior second baseman, said.
He was good at it on Thursday.
Hilgefort hit a sacrifice fly to right field to allow pinch runner Ben Barhorst to score the winning run in Fort Loramie’s 2-1 victory over Garfield Heights Trinity in a Division IV state semifinal at Huntington Park. The win gives the Redskins a shot at the Div. IV state title on Saturday.
Hilgefort has a .316 average and bats near the end of Fort Loramie’s lineup. He is the team’s go-to bunter and had 11 RBIs on the season heading into the game. Sanders had confidence he could deliver with a 1-1 score in the top of the seventh.
“We put Shane at the bottom because he’s our best bunter and he can drive in runs,” Sanders said. “He has great plate appearances — any time he needs to get something done, whether it’s hit the ball to the right side, sac fly or base hit, he can. He’s not the fastest runner, but he’s our perfect nine-hole hitter.”
Fort Loramie left-handed pitcher Jared Middendorf threw a complete game for the Redskins and put Trinity down in order in the seventh, including a game-ending strikeout to Ryan Foss.
Middendorf (7-2) had six strikeouts and held Trinity to three hits. His fastball clocked around 80 miles per hour through the game.
“I think it was all him,” Sanders said. “He said, ‘I’m not going to let this happen today, I’m going to get it done,’ and he did.”
Middendorf allowed four walks in the first two innings but only one the last five.
“He just settled in,” Sanders said. “We made a few tweaks to make sure he was going down the ramp, down the hill. We try to make him go down the hill and just not sling it.”
The Trojans had runners on second and third in the second before Middendorf ended the inning with a strikeout of Foss.
“The nerves were high early, very high,” Middendorf said. “After that, I knew my teammates had my back, and I knew I just had to throw down the middle, because the umpire had a tight strike zone. …The zone got a little bit more wide as the game went on, and I kept picking the corners, and it paid off.”
Fort Loramie’s fielders came up with several big catches on hard hits. The biggest defensive play of the game came in the fifth after Trinity scored its first run.
Zach Mammana hit a single to left field with two outs. After Fort Loramie outfielder Carter Mescher charged to it, he quickly threw to short stop Eli Rosengarten. Rosengarten then threw home to Darrin Hoying, who was able to tag out Trinity’s Michael Clancy at home plate.
“That was a great play,” Middendorf said. “We would have just been tied at the end if that didn’t happen, extra innings. Who knows what would have happened.”
Fort Loramie (26-6) will face Hicksville in a state final at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Hicksville beat Mowrystown Whiteoak 4-1 in the second Div. IV semifinal on Thursday at Huntington Park.
“It means everything,” Middendorf said of a shot at the title. “We’ve been working all winter for this. We’ve been working our butts off to get in this position, and it’s a great feeling that it’s paid off.”
CJ Billing, who’s come up big at the plate multiple times during the team’s tournament run, had a throwing error that allowed Trinity’s run to score.
After Zach Mammana led off the fifth with a double, Michael Clancy hit a bunt to Billing at third base. Billing threw hard to first, and it sailed by Fort Loramie’s Nathan Raterman.
Billing quickly erased the error at the plate in the top of the sixth. After Carter Mescher singled with one out, Billing hit a triple over the center fielder’s head to drive him in and tie it up 1-1.
“I can’t say enough about CJ,” Sanders said. “He’s resilient. I’m sure he was disappointed (with the error), but I told him, ‘We’ve been here before, put a good swing on it, and it will go.’ Sure enough, he got a pitch he liked. He was great.”
Mitch Hoying was hit by a pitch with one out in the seventh and Devin Wehrman walked. After Trinity switched Jae Visha for Clay Anderson, the runners advanced on a passed ball. Hilgefort then hit a fly out to right to put the Redskins ahead.
“As the game unfolded, we knew it was going to be a close game,” Sanders said. “We knew it was going to come down to something. We made a mistake, it cost us a run. They made a mistake on the passed ball, and it put us in the position to win the game. You can have something go your way, but you’ve got to capitalize on it.”
It was a pitching duel between Middendorf and Visha. The Redskins drove up Visha’s pitch count in late innings and were able to get timely hits and take advantage of walks. Visha allowed four hits in 6 1/3 innings with four strikeouts.
“He had a little bit of a funky delivery,” Middendorf said. “He’s a great pitcher, but we knew we could catch up to his fastball after a while. He was throwing mid- to low-80’s, and we knew we had him after a while.”
It’s the fourth consecutive postseason game the Redskins have either trailed or been tied in late innings before rallying. Hilgefort said that’s great experience to have heading into Saturday’s final.
“No matter what, our team always fights,” Hilgefort said. “Like today, we fought to the end, and it came out for us, big time.”
Sanders said the Redskins will practice Friday morning and watch Division I and II semifinals later in the day at Huntington Park.
“Hopefully, we just take it all in,” Sanders said. “It’s a great day because we can just enjoy where we’re at and that we get to play Saturday.”
Trinity, a Catholic school in suburban Cleveland, finishes the season 22-4.
Fort Loramie has made final fours six times, including in 2007 and 2010, when it won Div. IV titles.