Last season, the Hilliard Darby High School baseball team found ways to win the close games. This season, close games were the Panthers' nemesis.

Last season, the Hilliard Darby High School baseball team found ways to win the close games. This season, close games were the Panthers' nemesis.

"We had a lot of chances to put games away a lot of times and we couldn't get that big hit," senior pitcher Jon Long said. "Little things hurt this year that didn't hurt us last year. It was disappointing that we couldn't put one more trophy in the trophy case."

A 2-1 loss to eighth-seeded Dublin Jerome on May 14 in the second round of the Division I district tournament seemed to epitomize the season. Twice Darby loaded the bases -- including in the seventh inning -- but couldn't score.

At 14-11 overall, the Panthers failed to reach a district semifinal for the first time in four years after closing the last two seasons with appearances in regional semifinals.

The group of 12 seniors also couldn't produce a third-consecutive league title with a third-place finish in the OCC-Central Division at 8-6 behind Dublin Coffman (12-2) and Hilliard Davidson (11-3) and ahead of Upper Arlington (7-7), Central Crossing (6-7), Thomas Worthington (6-7), Worthington Kilbourne (3-11) and Westland (0-13).

"As seniors, it really wasn't what we expected," infielder Justin Chumita said.

"It just seemed like in those close games we couldn't come up with that big play. We just couldn't get that second run across against Jerome, but that's baseball."

The Panthers left 12 runners on base. Mitch Baer drove in the only run in the fifth with a double.

Jerome scored twice in the second off pitcher Matt Frey, who finished 4-2 with a 0.95 ERA in 44 1/3 innings. He and Long (6-3, 1.75 ERA, 45 strikeouts) led a pitching staff that kept Darby in every game. The seniors combined for nine complete games in 15 starts.

Long earned the win in an 11-1 victory over Logan on May 11 in the postseason opener. The regular season ended May 15 with a 4-1 loss to fifth-seeded Hilliard Davidson, which reached a regional semifinal against Harrison on Thursday at Coffman.

"If anything, I think we played as a team at the end of the year even though we didn't get as far as we wanted," Long said.

"As a senior class, we're definitely proud of our accomplishments."

Chumita, who batted .458 with an on-base percentage of better than .610, led all hitters. Senior catcher Alec Orr (.388, 10 doubles, 1 triple, 24 RBI) and Baer (.364, 7 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 22 RBI) were the top run producers.

Juniors Gus Kelly (.319, 6 doubles, 2 triples, 1 home run, 14 RBI) and Dane Robinson (.303, 3 doubles) should be the top offensive returnees next season.

Junior pitcher Tyler Wilson was 0-1 with a 2.21 ERA in 18 1/3 innings.

But when Hilliard Bradley opens in the fall, the program's numbers will be smaller.

"We've got some guys who have won some championships for us and they'll be missed," Fugitt said. "But we've got a good core of six juniors right now who got some valuable experience. We'll get to work here in the summer and start preparing for 2010."

At a glance

•Record: 14-11 overall, 8-6 (third) in OCC-Central

•Seniors lost: Andrew Allen, Mitch Baer, Justin Chumita, Matt Frey, Mike Hatfield, Jon Long, Alec Orr, Nick Simeon, Ryan Stauffer, Ty Welch and Adam Zimmerman

•Key returnees: Gus Kelly, Dane Robinson and Tyler Wilson