Chiefs head back to Springfield for Class 1 Final Four
If Santa Fe head coach Josh Fisher had his druthers, he'd ra-ther his team not fall behind 2-0 in must-win games.
However, each of the last two times the Chiefs have done so, they have responded with multiple multiple-run innings, en route to lopsided wins in the Class 1 state playoffs.
The latest victim was visiting Canton, which scored two runs in the first inning off of Chiefs' ace southpaw Andrew Curry.
But Curry settled down, and the Chiefs' offense, swatting three home runs in the process, scored three runs in the second, two in the third, five in the fifth and three in the seventh, hammering Canton, 13-4.
It was a big win, but there are still games to play.
"We're happy to get to go, but we have two more games," Curry said about his upcoming first Final Four appearance. "We're not done yet."
Senior Dalton Wilkinson has been there, done that. He is the lone Santa Fe starter re-maining from the team that ad-vanced to the 2009 title game before losing to Dora. He wants to win this time.
"I'm not saying it's not a great feeling, it is. But we're not done," he said. "The last time (2009), we knew we were going. It was just a matter of winning."
Head coach Josh Fisher said playing cohesively is one of the biggest attributes of the 2012 Chiefs.
"They work great together as a team," he said. "We've got 18 guys who come to practice each day to work their tails off and make each other better."
The Tigers, who amassed 11 hits off of Curry, didn't have any trouble seeing the ball out of his pitching hand in the bottom of the first inning.
With one out, Tyler Niemann singled. With two outs, Brandon Berhorst hit a hard shot between shortstop and third base for an-other single. The runners moved to second and third on a wild pitch, and Curry walked mound counterpart Garrett Serbin to load the bases.
Lucas Brown followed with a two-run single to right field. But perhaps losing focus and reliving his base hit, Brown was picked off of first by Curry to end the inning.
"He was having trouble getting his breaking ball working for him," Fisher explained about Curry's early difficulties. "I think he'll be fine."
Serbin, who retired the Chiefs in order in the top of the first, al-most wriggled off the hook in the second, but Santa Fe tagged him for three runs on four hits to take the lead for good.
Curry opened the frame with an infield single. But he still stood there after Serbin fanned Keaton Graf and Chad Tieman looking.
But instead of Serbin getting out of the inning unscathed, Cole Wodrich was safe on an infield single toward shortstop, and Christian Boehmer walked to load the bases.
Ross Heimsoth made Serbin pay as he ripped a shot to left to score Curry and Wodrich, tying the game. Andrew Smith followed with a base hit to right to score Boehmer, putting the Chiefs ahead.
Curry dominated the second inning on the hill, fanning all three Canton batters.
Facing a new Tiger pitcher in the top of the third, Dalton Wil-kinson flied out to deep right field.
Curry followed with a solo home run that on any other day probably would have been a long fly out. On this day, though, the wind was blowing strongly toward left field, helping out the high fly.
Then Graf belted a no-doubter over the left-field fence for a 5-2 lead.
Canton loaded the bases on a single, a walk and an error with one out. But Curry was able to get Serbin to hit a ball back to him. Curry gunned a throw home to Tieman for a force out. Tieman completed the 1-2-3 double play when his peg to Dal-ton Wilkinson was in time to cut down Serbin, sending the game to the fourth.
The Tigers touched up Curry for another run in the bottom of the fourth, but questionable base running ran them out of a possible bigger inning.
A one-out walk to Nathan Lewis, and a two-out single to right by Levi Gaus put runners on the corners. Austin Hoewing came through with an RBI single to left. But trying to get to third, Gaus was thrown out by Heim-soth, ending the frame.
For all intent and purposes, the Chiefs put away the game with a five-run fifth inning.
With one out, Dalton Wil-kinson singled and stole second. Curry was hit by a pitch and Graf walked, filling the sacks.
In came Hoewing to throw gasoline on the fire, Tieman ripping an RBI single to right field. Wodrich hit a ball that should have been an out, but the Tigers' Aaron Ellison booted it, allowing Curry and Graf to score.
"Once we're able to get on them and dial in, we're able to do it," Fisher said about his hitters' sometimes slow adjustment to new pitchers, the 'Cats using three of them. "I wish it wouldn't take so long."
Heimsoth kept the inning going with an RBI base hit to left, which was followed by Smith's bloop RBI single to center, building the lead to 10-3.
Controversy brought both Canton coaches onto the field to argue with one of the field um-pires in the bottom of the fifth.
Niemann led off the frame with a single. Ellison's ground ball was fielded by Smith at second. His throw to Wyatt Wilkin-son was in plenty of time to get Niemann, who slid what was deemed out of the baseline and into Wyatt Wilkinson, preventing him from making a quality throw to first base to complete the double play. So the umpire made the decision to call runner interference, ruling Ellison out, as well, setting off a bit of hostility toward the umpire by the two Canton coaches.
Neither team scored through the rest of the fifth and the sixth stanzas.
The Chiefs scored three additional insurance runs on the strength two hits, including a three-run home run off the bat of Wyatt Wilkinson. The wind-ai-ded round-tripper was the freshman's first circuit blow of his high-school career. Heimsoth, who was hit by a pitch, and Smith, who singled for the third time, were on base.
The Tigers didn't go down without a bit of a fight in the seventh, scoring one run on three hits and an error. But Curry zoned in and struck out Berhorst and Serbin looking to end the game.
Smith had three singles, a run scored and two RBIs, Dalton Wilkinson two singles and a run scored and Heimsoth two base hits, a run scored and three RBIs for the Chiefs, who totaled 13 hits. Canton, which finished the season 19-5, had three singles from Niemann and two each from Hoewing and Gaus.
Curry walked three and struck out eight, six of them looking. His record improved to 11-0.
The win advances the Chiefs to their fourth Final Four since 2007, but their first since 2009, having been eliminated in the district championship game by Concordia each of the past two years.
The Chiefs, winners of 16 straight games and 21-1, play the 19-8 Oran Eagles, ranked sixth in the most recent poll, in the se-mifinal round today at 10 a.m. The other semifinal has No. 4 Norwood, 21-5, tangling with unranked Sturgeon, 13-6, at 1 p.m.
The Eagles have been there, done that, too. They lost to Li-beral 6-5 in last year's semifinal round before shutting out St. Eli-zabeth 10-0 in the third-place game.
Oran also was third in 2008, the year the Chiefs won the state title by beating New Haven 7-4 in the semifinal and Stoutland 12-7 in the championship. The Eagles lost to Stoutland 7-4 in the semifinal round before dow-ning New Haven 5-2 in the third-place game.
In all, this is the 18th time the Eagles have played in the state tournament, dating back to 1967, and 11th time in the Final Four. They never have won a state title, finishing second three times and third seven times.
Santa Fe is playing in its fourth Final Four, having ad-vanced to the state tournament for the seventh time this year.
Sturgeon is making its third appearance in the Final Four but first since winning a state title in 1982. The Bulldogs also won the state crown in 1980. This year marked the 11th time they have made it into the state playoffs.
As for Norwood, the Pirates have made two other Final Four appearances (1993 and 2000), not finishing better than third. They have made 11 playoff ap-pearances, dating back to 1982.
On the season, the Chiefs have scored 9.72 while allowing 2.22 runs per game. They have recorded six shutouts and have been held to three runs or less three times.
Oran has averaged 7.63 runs per game and given up 3.37 runs per game. The Eagles have re-corded five shutouts and scored two runs or less in four games, including being shut out once.
The Pirates have scored 8.81 runs per game while allowing 3.15. They have registered four shutouts while being shut out once and scoring two runs or less on four other occasions.
Sturgeon has averaged 8.63 runs per game while surrendering 4.11 runs per contest. The Bulldogs have recorded four shutouts, and have scored three runs or less in four games.
The winners of today's games will meet for the state championship Thursday at 1 p.m. The losers of today's contests will play for third place to-morrow morning at 10.
Note: Chris Allen, The Marshall Democrat-News, contributed to this story.