COLUMBUS -- Heading into what was his final season of his high school career, Josh Taylor had a heart to heart with his team prior to the 2017 season.
"It has been a dream of mine to win a state championship since I was 6 years old," the Tallmadge senior designated hitter said.
A few months later, Taylor's dream is 21 outs away from becoming a once-in-a-lifetime reality.
The Tallmadge baseball team earned a trip to the state title game for the sixth time in school history after earning a 4-1 victory over Maumee.
The Division II state semifinal contest took place June 1 at Huntington Park in Columbus.
With the win, the Blue Devils (24-7) earned a date with Dayton Chaminade Julienne, which defeated Steubenville 3-0 in the other Division II state semifinal contest, in the state final June 3 in Columbus. Results of the state final were not available at press time.
Tallmadge won its only state title in 2002. The Blue Devils have been runners-up four other times.
Tallmadge, which finished second in the Suburban League American Conference during the regular season, got a gem from its ace, some clutch two-out hitting and stellar defensive plays against the Panthers.
Such a display was pleasing to the eyes of 14th-year head coach Kenny Linn, who guided the Blue Devils to the state semifinals for the first time in 15 years.
"They just worked really hard," Linn said. "Two years ago, I could see we had potential. They believed they could do it. When they lost to Norton [in the 2016 district semifinals] that motivated them even more."
Junior right-hander Zach Boyd got the win on the mound. He got stronger and stronger as the game progressed and capped off the win by getting shortstop Jordan Key to strike out swinging on a curveball.
"We talked about bringing in [junior right-hander] Mikah [McGlaughlin], but Zach said, 'No, no. This is my game," Linn said. "Every time Zach goes out there, he gives us a chance to win."
"Every game I start, I act as if I'm going to throw a complete game," Boyd said. "I don't like taking no for an answer. I like to finish what I start."
For awhile, Boyd was behind despite having his 'A' game.
After a walk and a hit batter in the first inning, Maumee (22-10), which made its second state semifinal appearance in school history, struck first when catcher Tyler Archambeau smacked a run-scoring single to left.
But the Blue Devils did the same thing they've been doing when they've fallen behind this postseason.
They shrug it off and get back to work.
Tallmadge took the lead for good with some clutch two-out hitting in the fourth.
Junior first baseman Scott Seeker got things started with two outs and no one on base when he ripped a double off the left-fielder's glove near the fence.
And then the Blue Devils really started cooking.
Taylor, the lone senior on the team, tied the game with a run-scoring triple over the center fielder's head and then he scored the go-ahead run on a double by junior center fielder Jared Burick.
"These guys love each other," Taylor said. "They respect me and I respect the heck out of them. It has been that way the whole season. It has been great to be a part of it."
Tallmadge still wasn't done.
Junior second baseman Jake Rensel, who has had clutch hits throughout this postseason, made it 3-1 when he blasted a double down the right-field line.
Such a display of offense was demoralizing for Maumee starting right-hander off right-hander Justin Studenka, who had been cruising in the first 3-2/3 innings.
The Blue Devils' defense made sure the lead wasn't relinquished.
Tallmadge sophomore catcher Rich Eyre gunned down a runner at first base after a failed bunt attempt and he also threw out a runner at second trying to steal.
Sophomore left fielder Sam Seeker made a diving snow-cone catch in the fifth and the Blue Devils made the play of the evening in the sixth.
Maumee right fielder Caleb Brown smashed a drive to deep right.
After not being able to locate the ball, junior right fielder Seth Gergely quickly fired to Rensel who gunned down Brown at third on a perfect throw to sophomore Jake Reifsnyder.
"We have the best defense in the state," Boyd said. "That relay in the six inning was huge. Sam's play was insane."
Seeker also provided a boost with his bat in the seventh.
The left-handed left fielder hit a fly ball to deep center that was dropped near the warning track.
Running full speed the whole time, Sam Seeker slid into home plate easily to give Tallmadge a 4-1 lead.
Burick finished 3 for 3 at the plate with two doubles. He was expected to get the ball against Chaminade Julienne in the state title game.
"That fourth inning was big," Burick said. "When Scott started that rally, it got everybody up. I can't thank the guys enough."
The Blue Devils finished with nine hits and one error. The Panthers had five hits and no errors.
"I was so excited," Boyd said. "I screamed after we got the last out. We still have one more game, though."