COLUMBUS: For the first time in school history, Jackson is headed to the state championship game.
The Polar Bears received production from their entire lineup as they pounded out nine hits on their way to a 4-2 win over two-time defending state champion Cincinnati Moeller in a Division I state semifinal at Huntington Park on Friday afternoon. Sophomore Sam Miller picked up the win on the mound, allowing just one unearned run in four innings.
Jackson will take on North Royalton, another team making its first title game appearance, at 4 p.m. today.
“I can’t believe it,” said senior Jake Miller, who led the Polar Bears at the plate by going 2-for-3 with an RBI. “My dad was the old coach here, so this is my 12th straight year in the dugout. This is my fourth year of varsity and the eight years prior to that I was in the dugout as a kid growing up. I looked up to those kids so much, and the fact that I’m on this team is huge. Playing with my younger brother has just been a dream come true.”
Jackson didn’t waste any time scoring against Moeller ace Zach Logue. The first batter of the game, Kyle Mottice, singled through the middle, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, and scored on a single to left field by Miller to make it 1-0 in the top of the first.
Moeller threatened in the first inning as well, but a big defensive play kept Jackson’s lead intact. The Crusaders had runners on second and third with one out when cleanup hitter Bryan Soth popped up to shallow right field. Jackson right fielder Mike McCann came in to make the basket catch, and then fired home to nail Moeller’s Josh Hollander trying to tag and score from third.
Moeller tied the score in the fourth. After a one-out single up the middle by Kyle Butz, he stole second and then scored on a throwing error.
From there, the game was all about clutch hitting — Jackson had it, Moeller didn’t.
Senior Tim Turner replaced Sam Miller on the mound after Miller gave up a leadoff double to pinch hitter Patrick Birrer to start the fifth. Turner got out of the inning with a pop-out, a strikeout and a fielder’s choice following a walk.
The Polar Bears reclaimed the lead in the fifth thanks to the bottom of their order setting the table. Eighth hitter Brennan Dingler started the inning with a single up the middle, and ninth hitter Jake Pallotta reached on a walk after originally trying to sacrifice Dingler over. Mottice sacrificed them both over, and Turner made it 2-1 with a sacrifice fly to center field. Cleanup hitter Seth Vellucci brought home Pallotta a batter later with a single up the middle to make it 3-1.
Jackson added an insurance run in the sixth with a big two-out hit. Jake Sima singled up the middle with one out, was sacrificed to second by Dingler, went to third on a balk, and scored on an RBI single to left field by Pallotta.
“Any team that’s successful needs the bottom of their order to be productive,” Jackson coach Bill Gamble said. “We were able to get that today and I think that gave us a little edge.”
“We haven’t gotten that consistently all year, but we had a great workout and a great week. Our guys executed today. They believed in their teammates and they believed in the plan. We knew we were playing a great team, but we knew it was only nine or 10 guys. We weren’t playing against the mystique. We talked about that all week. Our guys carried out our plan well.”
Overcoming the mental hurdle of playing a state power like Moeller can often be the undoing of teams who are unfamiliar with the pressures of big-time success, but as Gamble said, the Polar Bears were unfazed.
“We just know we’re good. We’re a little cocky,” Jake Miller said. “We know that we have something special right now. We may not be the most talented team here, but our pitching is going to keep us in every game, and we’re getting the hits and a little luck. Most teams would come into the game and be intimidated because they’re playing Moeller, but we knew if we played our game, we weren’t going to get beat.”