Panthers fall in regional final
When the games meant the most, the Hilliard Darby High School baseball team was at its best.
The Panthers won their first district championship since 2008 and finished 20-11 overall after losing to Gahanna 8-1 in a Division I regional final June 1 at Dublin Coffman. The game was suspended because of bad weather in the fifth inning May 31 with Gahanna leading 3-1.
"One of our goals was to practice in June, because it's something that we had never done before," said coach Chris Fugitt, who completed his 16th season. "We sort of got there, playing a game in June. We have gone further than any Darby (baseball) team has gone."
Darby was seeded 13th in the district tournament and had a first-round bye. The Panthers defeated 18th-seeded Lancaster 8-2 in a second-round game May 15 and 12th-seeded Pickerington Central 11-4 in a district semifinal May 20 at Olentangy before upsetting top-seeded Pickerington North 2-0 in a district final May 22 at Otterbein University.
"They really turned it up when the games counted," Fugitt said. "They made the plays and got us to our first regional final."
Gahanna sophomore Mason Daniels tossed a three-hitter to help the Lions improve to 22-9 and win their first regional title. He struck out four and walked five.
Darby tied the game at 1 in the bottom of the second when senior catcher Stephan Hernon walked, moved to third on a one-out double by Chase Longwell, a senior pitcher/infielder, and scored on a passed ball.
Junior infielder Nate Green doubled in the third and senior outfielder Hayden VanKirk singled in the fifth for the Panthers' other hits.
"(Daniels) had three pitches he could throw for strikes," Fugitt said. "He kept us off-balance."
The Panthers defeated Thomas Worthington 15-13 in a regional semifinal May 30 at Coffman. Green hit a two-run double in the sixth inning, scoring senior designated hitter Jake Chetock and senior outfielder Chris Ramsey to put the Panthers ahead by two.
Darby scored in every inning except the third, had 19 hits and took advantage of six Thomas errors. Chetock went 4-for-5 with a triple and double, Longwell went 3-for-5 and senior infielder/pitcher Tyler Elavsky had three RBI.
"Before the game, we felt great and knew it was going to be a good game," Chetock said. "This is the kind of game you love to play."
In the OCC-Cardinal Division, the Panthers finished second (11-3) behind Dublin Jerome (12-2) and ahead of Westerville South (8-6), Westerville North (7-7), Dublin Scioto (5-8), Bradley (5-9), Westerville Central (4-9) and Worthington Kilbourne (3-11).
Green was first-team all-league, batting .411 with a .446 on-base percentage, three home runs, 37 RBI, 20 runs and 12 doubles. He also was 9-0 with a 1.91 ERA and 79 strikeouts and 32 walks in 58 2/3 innings.
Chetock (.383 batting average, .500 on-base percentage, 33 runs, 21 stolen bases, 1 homer, 17 RB1) and Ramsey (.347 batting average, .426 on-base percentage, 25 runs, 22 RBI, 11 doubles, 4 triples, 10 stolen bases) were second-team all-league. Hernon (.337, 17 runs, 29 RBI, 10 doubles) was special mention all-league.
Longwell was honorable mention all-league, batting .330 with 21 runs and 15 RBI, and he was 4-2 with a 3.93 ERA in 46 1/3 innings with 26 strikeouts and 10 walks. Senior pitcher Brad Bowman was 1-1 with a 4.88 ERA in 14 1/3 innings and Elavsky was 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA in 15 2/3 innings.
The 13-player senior class also included outfielder/pitcher Tyler Green (1-1, 2.10 ERA, 13 1/3 innings, 14 strikeouts, 5 walks), infielder Connor Holdren (.316, 27 runs, 11 RBI), catcher Dylan Salyers, pitcher Jacob Schultz (3.15 ERA, 20 innings) and outfielders Devon Tufts and Sam Valenti.
"This was a great senior class and we learned a lot from them," Nate Green said. "They always put the team first and we would go out there playing and fighting together."
Also expected to return are junior starters Nate Green, infielder Hunter McSweeney (.274, 12 runs, 10 RBI, 8 stolen bases) and infielder/pitcher Eric Norton (3-2, 1 save, 5.25 ERA, 24 innings). Other juniors expected back are Reid Hollinger (INF/P), Jimmy Leahy (OF), Kyle Rogers (OF/P) and John Wells (INF/P).