A little insurance proved very welcome — and necessary — for Archbishop Hoban on Saturday afternoon.
Nursing a 1-0 lead for four innings, Hoban’s hitters provided a three-run, two-out rally in the last of the sixth in the Akron Division II regional final at Firestone Stadium.
That four-run lead enabled the Knights to weather a two-run rally by familiar foe Mentor Lake Catholic in the seventh before closing out a 4-2 victory, clinching a trip to the state tournament for the second year in a row.
Hoban senior right-hander Laney Jones, who slammed a leadoff home run in the second inning, made that precarious advantage hold up until she and her teammates added some late breathing room.
“I think my team really pulled together when we needed to,” Jones said. “I think we made some mental mistakes in the last inning because we kind of got overexcited. But we needed the runs we got, and I’m glad we got them in.”
She gave up two hits and the Knights made two errors in the seventh, but Jones struck out the Cougars’ Jenna Brennenman for the final out and was swarmed by giddy teammates.
Besides that, Jones (15-2) allowed just two other baserunners — a leadoff walk in the first and a single in the fourth. She struck out 12.
The Knights won all three games against Lake Catholic (13-11) this year, two in the regular season, including a 7-1 victory that Jones pitched. Both schools are members of the North Coast League Blue Division.
Hoban (23-3) advances to a state semifinal at 5:30 p.m. Friday against LaGrange Keystone, a 2-0 winner over Oak Harbor on Saturday, again at Firestone Stadium.
The Knights lost to Hebron Lakewood in last year’s semis, their first appearance in the final four since 2007.
Saturday’s game might have rekindled unpleasant memories of that 4-1 loss in which Hoban led 1-0 going into the sixth.
“A little bit,” Jones said. “I think we knew coming into this game that they were going to be a great team by having played them twice this year. I think that really boosted our confidence. We knew their pitchers and we knew how they hit. We just had to produce runs when we could.”
And Jones’ second hit — a two-out double in the seventh — ignited the big inning. Senior Katie Clark then reached on an infield throwing error, scoring courtesy runner Caroline Blay as Clark raced to third.
Junior Chloe Weidrick followed with an RBI single to right and junior designated player Ashley Matousek doubled to deep center to score Weidrick and make it 4-0.
Junior Alex Whitmore smacked two of Hoban’s six hits in three at-bats, including a triple leading off the fourth — through she was stranded there — and an infield hit in the sixth when she was thrown out stealing.
She also had the go-ahead RBI in Hoban’s 6-5 regional semifinal comeback win over Marlington Wednesday.
“It feels amazing,” Whitmore said. “It actually feels unreal, but, at the same time, we expected us to get here because we’re such a great team.”
Lake Catholic freshman left-hander Lauren Bush allowed only two hits in five innings before the Knights’ late fireworks.
“That was a little bit unusual for us this year,” Hoban coach Frank Voss said. “But they are a good team. They know us as well as we know them and they showed it. Their pitcher was keeping us off balance.”
Voss said before the start of the season, the team made a “commitment to get this far, and then to actually get farther.”
And he said the year of added maturity for his returning players bodes well for that possibility.
Whitmore said the team is working on relaxation techniques to avoid letting self-imposed pressure limit their potential.
“Unfinished business — I’m just going to say that this is our time,” said Whitmore. “It’s in our control. We’ve just to keep going.”