AURORA — Even by the standards of Northeast Ohio baseball, the run up to the Division II section final between Aurora and Woodridge Thursday was weird.
Woodridge had its section playoff game with Cleveland John F. Kennedy postponed twice due to wet fields — only have JFK forfeit the game on Wednesday.
Thus, by the time Woodridge made it to Ed Sherwin Field Thursday, the Bulldogs had not played since May 11, when they defeated Kent Roosevelt 7-0 at Kent State University. Aurora had an even longer layup, as the Greenmen had not played since an 8-7 loss to Chardon on their Senior Night May 10.
How did the two deal with the long layoffs? Woodridge coach Dennis Dever said it best.
"Unfortunately, we didn’t show up for the first four innings and they did," Dever said.
Taking advantage of five Woodridge errors, Aurora ran off nine unanswered runs and then coasted to a 9-4 win in a Division II sectional final game. Aurora improved to 14-9 on the year, while Woodridge dropped to 16-8.
With the win, Aurora advanced to the Division II district semifinal at Twinsburg Monday, where it will face second-seeded Chagrin Falls at 2 p.m.
Aurora coach Mike Brancazio said it was his team’s best game of the season — for the first five innings. Based on the scouting report he received on Woodridge starting pitcher, Aurora’s strategy was simple.
"Attack early," Brancazio said. "We wanted to try to get up on him early, because we know [Martin] is a great pitcher. He’s got a plus arm. Our goal was to hit the fastball. That’s something we’ve been able to do."
Martin came into the game with a 6-0 record, but Thursday proved to be one of the toughest outings of his high school career. The Ashland University recruit lasted just 3.1 innings, allowing eight runs (four earned) on seven hits with two walks and no strikeouts.
Dever noted Woodridge’s defense didn’t do Martin any favors, as Woodridge committed five errors in the first four innings.
"That was part of it," Dever said. "He got the ball up [in the strike zone]. When you get the ball up against against good teams, you’re going to get hit."
By contrast, Aurora starter Jack Fecko was unhitable in his four innings of work. Fecko improved to 5-2, pitching four hitless and scoreless innings, allowing five walks and striking out nine Bulldogs.
Fecko looked to be in trouble in the third inning when he walked the bases loaded, but he struck out Woodridge’s Ty Mygrants and got Andrew Mekeal to fly out to end the inning.
By contrast, Aurora took advantage of nearly early scoring opportunity early.
With two outs in the first inning, Aurora worked a hit-and-run play, as catcher Colin McNamara singled and moved center fielder Cooper Bizjak to third base. Bizjak then scored on a passed ball to make it 1-0 after one.
In the bottom of the second, designated hitter Mike Carpenter led off with a double to left, was sacrificed to third and a scored on an RBI grounder, although Brody Lalley was safe to an error.
After another error and fielder’s choice by Bizjak, shortstop Will Carpenter came through with a two-out RBI single and Bizjak scored on a throwing error to make it 4-0.
Aurora made it 5-0 in the third when Carter Gerbrick doubled, John Papesh hit a bunt single and Mike Carpenter drove Gerbrink home with wit ha sacrifice fly.
The Greenmen chased Martin from the game in the fourth inning. With one out and one on, Will Carpenter smacked an RBI double to right, followed by an RBI single by McNamara.
Woodridge relieved Martin with Malcom Neitenbach, who nearly ended the the scoring. However, another error allowed McNamara to score, followed by an RBI single from Mike Carpenter.
The Carpenter brother led the charge for Aurora, as the two combined for two double, two singles and four RBIs.
In danger of losing via the mercy rule, Woodridge’s offense finally awoke in the top of the sixth inning.
The rally started after Aurora reliever Justin Demassimo was called for any illegal pitch. With one out, Mekeal walked and Brandon Albright broke up the no-hitter with a double to center fielder.
Martin followed with an RBI single to break the shutout, followed by an RBI double by Kyle Schnieder and a throwing error that allowed Martin to score and make it 9-3.
Designated hitter Kevin Baker then hit an RBI single to make it 9-4.
"This team’s got heart. There’s no doubt about that," Dever said. "We just came up short and started a bit too late.
"Justin was in rhythm and then that happens," Brancazio said. "He’s got to be able to power through."
Woodride had one last chance to get something going in the top of the seventh inning when Ty Mygrants singled and Mekeal walked with one out. However, Aurora reliever Andrew Horvath got Albright to line out to third and Martin hit into a fielder’s choice to end the game.
While Aurora looks forward to the playoffs, Woodridge had two regular season games left, taking on Hudson Friday and Uniontown Lake Saturday. Dever said his team still had something to play for, but noted the Bulldogs felt short of their goal of a league and district title.
"It was a solid season," Dever said. "Our expectations were so much higher."
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO