by Frank Aceto

Associate Sports Editor

Hudson -- They committed six errors and finished with just seven hits.

Such statistics weren't exactly the kind of numbers the Explorers had in mind against the top team in the state.

Fortunately for the Hudson baseball team, those woeful numbers meant nothing in the end.

The Explorers are back in regional play after a one-year hiatus.

Second-seeded Hudson earned a dramatic 8-3 victory in eight innings over top-seeded Walsh Jesuit in the Hudson Division I district title contest May 20 at The Ballpark at Hudson.

The Explorers (24-3), who also earned a 10-4 win over Berea-Midpark in a regular-season game May 21 on the road, will play Struthers district champion Aurora, a 6-2 winner over Nordonia.

The regional semifinal contest is scheduled to take place May 29 at Thurman Munson Stadium in Canton. First pitch is set for 5 p.m.

"This is unbelievable, especially as a senior," Hudson first baseman Nanak Saran said. "We worked out all fall and all winter and to see the work we put in, it's awesome."

Sophomore right-hander Ian Swan, who pitched the last two innings, got the win on the mound.

Starter Kevin Zullo pitched the first six innings before handing the ball to Swan. Right-hander Tim Benner took the loss.

The Explorers trailed most of the game.

The Warriors (26-1), who were ranked No. 1 in the state, according to the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association poll and third in the MaxPreps Xcellent 50 National Baseball Rankings, scored three unearned runs on five Hudson errors in the first four innings.

As a result, Walsh had a 3-1 lead behind right-hander Ryan Feltner, a Hudson resident, heading into the fifth. Sensing his players' anxious behavior, Explorers' second-year head coach Buddy Dice decided to give his players a simple message.

"I just tried to get them to calm down and slow things down," he said. "They were a little overly excited. We had to remind them that we still had to play baseball like we're capable of playing."

The players took their coach's words of wisdom to heart.

Hudson tied the game in the top of the fifth off southpaw reliever and Hudson resident Joel Ruane, who got the ball with two outs and a runner on first base.

Ruane walked senior third baseman Dan Joseph, who was the first batter he faced.

The next batter, senior right fielder Joey Cahill, greeted Ruane with a two-run double over Walsh center fielder Blake Jenkins' head to tie the game. That was it for Ruane and Benner avoided further trouble by getting a strikeout.

Benner wasn't so fortunate later in the game.

The Explorers took control in the eighth with five runs in a variety of ways.

It all started with a bloop.

Saran got things started when his flare popped out of Walsh left fielder and Hudson resident Azim Qadri's glove as he tried to make a diving catch.

After a wild pitch moved Saran to second base, senior second baseman Jared Hoffman followed with a bunt down the third-base line.

The throw to first ended up going to right field and Saran scored to give Hudson a 4-3 lead. Hoffman also went to second on the throwing error.

"We just wanted to put the ball in play and make things happen," Saran said.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, Hudson kept making things happen with or without the bat.

The next batter, junior center fielder Dean Miller, was hit by a pitch and a passed ball put two runners in scoring position. Senior catcher Sam Evans then reached on catcher's interference to load the bases.

Junior shortstop Jake Stuursma followed with a run-scoring single to left. Trailing 5-3 after Stuursma's hit, Walsh decided to bring in left-hander Ty Shoaff.

He immediately was put into an uncomfortable position when senior left fielder Braden Wright laid down a bunt single to drive in another run to give the Explorers a 6-3 advantage.

After a strikeout, Cahill made it 8-3 with a two-run single to center. Shoaff got two strikeouts to end the inning, but the damage was done.

"After that eighth inning, we were able to relax," Evans said. "Ian went out and threw a great last inning and Kevin threw great the entire game."

Swan (2-1), who entered the game in the seventh, got in and out of trouble in the blink of an eye.

He hit the first batter, first baseman Dominic Mittiga, with a pitch and then saw that runner erased when Hudson turned a 4-6-3 double play. Swan retired the last batter on a pop up in foul territory.

"We try to thrive on errorless baseball, but when it happens, we know we are good enough to make up for it," Joseph said. "Our pitching was unbelievable. To have six errors and only give up three runs is crazy. Ian and Kevin did an amazing job."

Zullo allowed zero earned runs in six innings of work. While Zullo and Swan did their work on the mound, Cahill proved to be a menace at the plate.

Other than his two hits, he had a sacrifice fly that tied the game at one in the third and two walks. He finished with five runs batted in.

"I was feeling really good and seeing the ball really well," Cahill said. "I was focused on staying calm. Obviously, there was a pretty big crowd and a lot of energy."

Blake Jenkins had two singles, a double and two runs scored for Walsh, which scored its first run on a throwing error in the first and added two more runs in the fourth.

Feltner allowed just one run in four innings of work. The Warriors finished with six hits and three errors.

Hudson, which was ranked fourth in the OHSBCA Division I state rankings, has certainly made 2014 a season to remember. A lot of the dirty work took place during the off-season.

"We had an offseason program that some college teams use," Dice said. "We used the weighted ropes and had the kids do a workout for more than an hour. To their credit, they got after it. Our seniors showed great leadership. The kids who were not playing a winter sport were here every day."

Junior right-hander Jacob McKenzie (4-0) got the win on the mound against Berea. The Explorers broke it open with six runs in the fifth. They finished with 13 hits and two errors.

Cahill and junior K.J. Tench each had a double, two RBIs and a run scored and Stuursma, Wright and juniors Matt Wallace and Travis Wood each had a double, an RBI and a run scored.


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