The magical run of the North Royalton Bears baseball team continued this morning as the Bears, in a move that no one around the Cleveland area saw coming, advanced to tomorrow's state final by defeating Gahanna Lincoln 3-0 in a state semi-final game.
Senior pitcher Frank Frate was dominate on the mound, as he shut down an offense in Gahanna Lincoln that is used to putting up runs. Frate worked out of a 2-on, 1-out jam in the bottom of the sixth inning. All game, Frate played a game of "dangling the carrot", then taking it away.
After walking leadoff man Blake Baker to start the 7th inning, Frate was relieved by Alex Sir Louis after 99 pitches. Sir Louis enticed Jake Hendricks to hit into a fielder choice to second base, getting the first out. Next up for Gahanna Lincoln was Brayden Callihan. On Sir Louis' second pitch, Callahan hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game
North Royalton wasted no time getting started scoring. In the top of the first with one out, Nate Kocan reached on an error. After being forced out at second on a fielder choice by Bryan Bielak, Kocan advanced to third on another Gahanna Lincoln error off the bat of Evan Willman. Dominic Passini then blooped a single to short center field, giving the Bears a 1-0 lead.
The Bears would extend the lead in the top of the third, with perfect execution of "small ball". Garrett Storm would lead off with a walk, and advance to second on a sacrifice bunt by Kocan. Bielak then drove Storm home with an RBI single, extending the North Royalton lead to 2-0.
Meanwhile, Frate was having his way with the Gahanna Lincoln offense. Despite falling behind in the count, Frate just seemed to be able to make the pitches he needed to make at the right time. Most importantly, he able to face Evan White, Gahanna's best player and a University of Kentucky recruit, without anyone in scoring position.
The Bears tacked on their final run in the top of the fifth when Kocan reached on an infield single, just out of the reach of Gahanna pitcher. Bielak then drove one over centerfielder Jake Hendricks' head for an RBI double, providing the final margin of 3-0.
The story of the game, however, was the performance of Frank Frate. Frate moved to 9-0 on the year by going six innings giving up just three hits, while walking four and striking out two. It was a gutty performance on the biggest stage.
North Royalton will play the winner of the game between Cincinnati Moeller and Massillon Jackson tomorrow at 4 p.m. at Huntington Park in Columbus. Getting the ball to pitch for the Bears tomorrow will be Noah Sasse, who pitched the Bears to their regional final win over Sylvania Southview.
North Royalton has beaten a "who's who" of the best of Ohio teams during this magical tournament run.
Do they have one more left in them?
I wouldn't bet against them