They weren't supposed to be here. No way they could get through the gauntlet of the Strongsville District. If they were to somehow make it through and get to the Bowling Green Regional, the dream would most surely end there.
Don't tell that to the North Royalton baseball team
In one of the great tournament runs that we have seen in a long time, the Bears of North Royalton will play in the state baseball semi-finals this Friday against Gahanna Lincoln, a state semi-finalist from last season. The road to the state final four has produced one thrilling win after another, in games where North Royalton was the underdog coming in.
Just don't call them a Cinderella team
All the fun started in their second tournament game against Berea-Midpark. In a game that was considered by many to be a toss-up, the Bears were able to prevail 3-0.
That got them a date with Strongsville, a perennial power, seeded second in the district, who would be playing on their home field. Trailing 2-0 heading into the sixth inning, North Royalton exploded for 7 runs in route to a 7-2 victory, which sent them into the district final game.
One dragon slayed
In the district final, they would meet St. Ignatius, the state runner-up last season. Favored to return to the state final again this season, they boasted two of the best players in the Cleveland area in Nick Fabian and Nick Longo. No problem. Senior pitcher Frank Frate slowed down the explosive St. Ignatius offense, and the Bears scratched out enough runs to send them off to the regionals, winning 5-2.
Two dragons slayed
Awaiting North Royalton in the regional semi-final was St. Edward, another Top 10 ranked school. Frate, again, was outstanding on the mound, throwing a complete game, and shutting down the high powered St. Edward offense. The Bears took advantage of some uncharacteristic errors by the Eagles, and came away with a 4-1 victory, sending them to the regional finals for the first time since 2005.
After you slay your third dragon, shouldn't the Cinderella tag go away? Shouldn't you be considerd legit at that point?.......Yep, they are certainly legit
All that stood in the way of North Royalton going to Columbus for the state final four was Northwest Ohio power Sylvania Southview. The Cougars are always good, and would provide a challenge for the Bears in their quest to move on.
You didn't think they would come all this way and lose did you?
Noah Sasse threw six strong innings, not allowing a walk, and centerfielder Garrett Strom made a game saving diving catch, saving two runs, and North Royalton went on to defeat Sylvania Southview 3-1, clinching their spot in the state final four. In a quote to Northeast Ohio Media Group, Strom talked about this tournament run, and what it means to this team:
You can look at all the stats in the paper, you can see hits, averages, home runs but there's one stat they can't put in the paper and that's passion. Thats' what this team has. I think that's been underrated in every good ball team we've played this year. We've come out, we wanted it more than them and that's how we got these last couple games to get to the state final.
The Bears opponent in the state semi-final is no stranger to Columbus. Gahanna Lincoln has had an up and down year, but don't let the 17-12 record fool you. They are playing their best baseball of the year. They advanced to Columbus by beating Olentangy Liberty, a very highly regarded, and a Top 10 ranked school 8-4. They knocked around All-Ohio pitcher, and Ohio State recruit Jacob Niggemeyer in winning that game. They will be looking to avenge a state semi-final loss last year to St. Ignatius, and play for a state title.
Can North Royalton come through again? Can they actually advance to play in the state title game? Don't bet against this team. In a quote to the North Royalton Post, first year coach Brad Klingbeil gives his assessment of his team, and of his team's chances:
We had some come from behind wins also some wins where we let the team back in and ended up pulling it out. These guys don’t quit and don’t want to stop. They don’t want to be on that losing end … This is a team with a capital ‘T’ more than I’ve ever seen.
If the Bears do advance, they will play the winner of the game between Cincinnati Moeller and Massillon Jackson Saturday afternoon.
North Royalton has as good of chance as any of the four teams remaining.....Just don't call them Cinderella