One day after missing his scheduled start because of illness, Connor Maruniak pitched the Hilliard Darby High School baseball team to its first Division I regional championship.
Maruniak scattered seven hits in 5 1/3 innings and allowed three runs — all unearned — as the Panthers defeated Upper Arlington 5-3 in a regional final May 31 at Dublin Coffman.
Darby improved to 24-7 and advanced to play Cleveland St. Ignatius in a state semifinal at 1 p.m. June 7 at Canal Park in Akron.
“I felt so much better today after having a high fever yesterday,” Maruniak said. “Coach (Mike Weer) called me today to check in on how I was feeling and I’m just happy I got this opportunity. This is our first regional championship and our first trip to state and I’m just so excited.”
UA, which finished 21-10, scored in the top of the first inning on singles by Sammy Sass and Ben Krimm and an error by the Panthers.
Darby took a 3-1 lead in the second on Nick Skelsky’s RBI single and Andrew Patrick’s two-run double to right-center field. The Panthers made it 5-1 in the fifth when Paxton Schwandt walked and scored from third on a balk and Drew Snyder hit an RBI double to right-center field.
“(Maruniak) settled down after (the first inning) and just started to hit spots and once we took the lead, I think he really settled in,” Weer said. “He kept getting better as he went along, but there was concern about his endurance, so we had Andrew warming up in the bullpen three or four times. I think Connor saw that and it increased his adrenaline because he wanted to stay in there.”
Patrick relieved Maruniak with one out in the top of the sixth and two runners on base and allowed an RBI groundout by Daniel Jaskot and an RBI single by Tommy Dilz before Maruniak made a running catch in center field to end the inning.
UA’s Jacob Leve reached on an error to lead off the top of the seventh, but Patrick retired the next three batters to end the game.
“This is what we’ve worked so hard for since last season,” Panthers senior Mason Bowers said. “This is the reward. To be the first from Darby to go to state is amazing, especially as a senior. We’re all brothers and this is a special moment that none of us will ever forget.”
UA was seeking its first regional title since 1990.
“The moment stings,” Golden Bears coach Sam Clark said. “It’s always going to. There’s only one team at the end of the season that has a moment that doesn’t sting. That’s what I told our guys. Losing this game isn’t easy, getting this far and having this opportunity in front of us. But we have to tip our hat to Hilliard Darby at the end of the night.”