The Bulldog baseball team has proven this season that it can compete in a close game, but winning them has been difficult at times.
On Wednesday, though, they used a great starting pitching performance, good defense, and just enough hitting to do something that a Stow team has not done in a number of years - win a sectional playoff game. The visiting Bulldogs beat Firestone in their opening round playoff game 1-0 in a classic pitcher's duel.
Senior left-hander Dan Garner got the start and went the distance for the Bulldogs. Garner struck out ten batters and issued one intentional walk, while giving up four hits as he kept the Falcons off of the scoreboard.
In the first inning both teams went down in order. In the bottom of the second, a Firestone batter reached on a pop where the infield had a communication issue. Another batter reached on a bad hop single. But the threat ended when Garner struck out the number 8 hitter.
However, Stow was getting no-hit through three innings. In the fourth, though, with one out , Senior Kevin Schirra, hit a double to left field. Junior Andrew Hurd, the DH in the game, was next at bat. Schirra was able to advance on a passed ball to third base. Hurd then followed with a fly to center field that was deep enough to let Schirra tag up and score the games lone run. Garner followed with a sharp single. Senior Thomas Gulley then hit a solid shot that looked like a hit to deep center only to have it taken away when the Firestone center fielder leaped and made the catch. Firestone went down in order in the bottom of the fourth striking out twice.
In the top of the fifth, Sophomore left-fielder Brian Groves reached on walk, but could not score. In the bottom of the fifth with the 1-0 Stow lead, Firestone hit a hard shot to third. Sophomore Mike Urban made a nice back handed play on the ball and then fired to first to beat the runner and get the out. The next two batters both hit hard grounders to the shortstop hole that Gulley made nice plays on. On the play for the third out in the inning, Gulley's hard throw to the first baseman, Schirra, just beat the runner in a bang-bang play.
Stow mounted another threat in the top of the sixth. With one out, Schirra got his second single of the game. Firestone made a pitching change and Hurd followed with a drive to left field, but the left fielder was able to run it down for two outs. Schirra had gotten to second on a wild pitch during the at bat. Firestone then employed a strategy that was definitely a gamble. They decided to intentionally walk Garner, who had homered at Firestone earlier in the year. Then Gulley came to bat, who has also homered at Firestone in prior years, and he was issued an intentional walk as well to load the bases. But the gamble paid off as Firestone got a strike to end the Stow threat.
In the bottom of the sixth Firestone got a lead off single and their most dangerous hitter came to the plate. But on a 2-2 pitch Garner got him out swinging on a change-up and then was able to retire the next two batters on a fly out to center fielder Junior K.C. Kolke and then another strike out.
Stow could not score in the top of the seventh and Coach Celik sent Garner out to the mound to close the game. He struck out the first batter on four pitches and got the second batter to ground out to second. The third batter hit an infield chopper that was not fielded, though, to reach base. The number nine hitter for Firestone then made things very interesting when he hit a 1-2 pitch to the right center gap for a single and put runners at first and third with two outs. Tension was high and the Firestone dugout was chanting and cheering as their lead off hitter stepped in at the plate. The count went to 2-2. But Garner's 103rd pitch clipped the outside corner and catcher, Senior Chris Choler, framed it perfectly for a called strike three and a win for the Bulldogs.
Stow will not get to enjoy the victory for long. Their tournament play will continue today, Wednesday, when the Bulldogs travel to take on Medina Highland who had a bye in the opening round of sectional action.