The Hilliard Darby High School baseball team will venture into new territory when it faces Cleveland St. Ignatius in a Division I state semifinal at 1 p.m. Friday, June 7, at Canal Park in Akron.
It will mark the Panthers' first game in the state tournament after they defeated Upper Arlington 5-3 in a regional final May 31 at Dublin Coffman to improve to 24-7.
The Wildcats, who are 22-8, rallied to score five runs in the top of the sixth inning to defeat Sylvania Southview 7-4 in their regional final May 31 at Cuyahoga Community College.
The semifinal winner faces Springboro (21-6) or Mentor (22-5) in the state final at 10 a.m. Sunday, June 9, at Canal Park.
Junior left-hander Connor Maruniak limited UA to seven hits and three unearned runs in 5 1/3 innings. One day earlier, he missed his scheduled start in a regional semifinal because of a 102-degree fever, but senior Seth Schmidt pitched a complete game in the Panthers' 5-3 win over Lancaster at Coffman, scattering four hits and striking out nine.
"I'm ready to pitch anytime they call on me," Schmidt said. "I try to be ready to go on short notice, whether it's in relief or starting, because you never know when something like this can happen. But I think everyone on this team trusts and believes in just about any pitcher we've got. Everyone takes care of their business."
Against UA, Darby took a 3-1 lead in the second inning 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.
Patrick relieved Maruniak with one out in the top of the sixth and two runners on base and allowed an RBI groundout and an RBI single before Maruniak made a running catch in center field to end the inning.
"I felt so much better (May 31) after having a high fever (May 30)," Maruniak said. "(Coach Mike Weer) called me (May 31) 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's leadoff batter reached base in the top of the seventh, but Patrick retired the next three batters to end the game.
"We all had confidence in Connor, but we didn't know if he would run out of gas after being sick," Patrick said. "I just wanted to come in and throw strikes and put pressure on their batters rather than on me. We have a wonderful defense and you just want to give them chances to make plays and not give up any free bases."
Boys volleyball team falls in state semifinal
The top-ranked boys volleyball team lost to second-ranked Cincinnati St. Xavier 25-14, 25-22, 25-12 in a Division I state semifinal June 2 at Capital to finish 26-3 overall.
St. Xavier went on to beat fifth-ranked Cincinnati Moeller 19-25, 25-22, 25-21, 35-33 in the state final June 2.
The Panthers, who had defeated the Bombers 25-16, 25-21, 25-15 on April 27, had not lost to an Ohio opponent up to that point, as both of their losses came in a tournament held March 29 and 30 in Wheaton, Illinois.
Darby, which defeated Beavercreek 25-20, 25-22, 23-25, 25-21 in a state quarterfinal June 1 at Capital, had played in the state final each of the past two seasons, losing to Moeller 25-22, 25-22, 25-18 a year ago after falling to Cleveland St. Ignatius 25-18, 26-24, 25-19 in 2017. They won state titles in 2013 and 2015.
"We've been in the final four for 10 straight years now and the expectations and aspirations are high every year, so anything short of winning it all always stings," coach Evan Bell said. "We had a tremendous season, but that doesn't lessen the pain any at this moment.
"Having those expectations is kind of the half-empty or half-full glass. But we wouldn't want it the other way. You keep striving to be the best and live with the disappointment if it comes. That provides motivation for the next year. What's the alternative? We'd rather get here every year and give ourselves a chance to reach the ultimate goal of winning it all."
The Panthers went 14-0 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to win their 19th consecutive league title and reached the state tournament for the 14th consecutive season by beating Coffman 25-19, 6-25, 25-13, 25-21 in an East Region final.
Darby is losing five seniors, including starters Nick Hermosilla (libero) and Dominic Melchiorre (middle hitter). Melchiorre was named second-team all-region and Hermosilla was honorable mention all-region.
Expected to return are juniors Adam Ansel (outside hitter), Michael Beard (outside hitter), Griffin Hart (opposite hitter), Jaren Kish (middle hitter) and Noah Platfoot (setter).
Platfoot, an Ohio State commit, was named Player of the Year in the state, region and league, and Ansel was first-team all-region and honorable mention all-state.
"I can't even think about next year yet," Bell said. "When I rejoined this program as coach, these seniors were the ones I came in with. This just stings so much. I guess I can say this much about next year: we need to be more consistent.
"There were times we took our foot off the gas and became the hunted rather than being the aggressive hunter."
Girls 800 relay places fifth at state
The girls 800-meter relay of senior Stacia Rispress, juniors Zayna Hampton and Naomi Walters and freshman Sydney Thomas placed fifth in the Division I state track and field meet that concluded June 1 at Ohio State in a school-record 1 minute, 41.58 seconds.
"We're thrilled," Rispress said. "The goal was to get on the podium and for us to set the school record and (reach the podium) is that much more exciting. This is an awesome way for me to go out and now I'll be watching these girls get back here next year and see if they can finish higher."
Walters said she was surprised to feel some nerves before the final.
"I didn't think I would be nervous, but then I looked up and saw how huge the crowd was and it did get me a little nervous," she said. "But I told myself to just pay attention to what I needed to do and focus on just helping us get on the podium. Once the race started, it was just like usual."
Thomas and Hampton already are looking ahead to next season.
"It was a great way to finish (the season) because we broke the school record again," Thomas said. "Making it to the podium was the main goal. I think we can do it again next year."
"We're going to miss Stacia because she's been the leader and the reason we're here," Hampton said. "So we've got to find a fourth piece and work hard to clean up our handoffs. We're going to have to get even better to get back here again."
Also competing at state for the girls team was junior Emma Kowalski, who finished 18th in the shot put (35 feet, 9 1/2 inches).
Other expected returnees include juniors Daniella Santos and Jane Vulic, sophomores Madison Brokaw, Gabrielle Hammonds, Liz Silva and Krystal Singh and freshmen Alivia Cannon and Mia Wyngarden.
The boys team was represented at state by sophomore Sean Carney, who finished 13th in the 1,600 (4:21.34), and senior Chris Burkhart, who was 17th in the discus (148-4).
Other expected returnees include juniors Lucas Fratianne, Evan Grose, Malachi McGill and Michael Morone and sophomores Sevon Stewart, Zach Vent and Eric Williams.