It is every little boy's dream to hit a game-winning home run in the last inning to propel his baseball team to a championship.
Unfortunately, that dream became a nightmare for the Canfield Cardinals last week.
Canfield held a 3-2 lead with two outs and one man on in the bottom of the seventh inning of its regional title game against Mentor Lake Catholic on May 25 in Hudson. All that stood between Canfield closer Tylor Rhoads and a trip to the Final Four was Mentor's Zach Hawkins. Down in the count three balls to one strike, Rhoads relied on his fastball to try to retire Hawkins, but instead, Zach zapped that pitch and lived out that little boy fantasy by hoisting a home run over the left field fence. Mentor Lake Catholic won the game 4-3 ending Canfield's season in the regionals for the second season in a row.
Senior Tylor Rhoads of Canfield drives home a run.
"It was crushing," said Canfield head coach Matt Koenig about the walk-off homer. "We had it set up with Rhoads pitching the seventh inning. He was our guy in the seventh all year. He was down 3-1 in the count so any pitch would be tough. He didn't want to put the winning run on base (with a walk). It was a great game. Someone had to win and, unfortunately, someone had to lose."
Koenig's team was losing 1-0 after one inning, but tied the game in the second on a Rhoads single. Canfield would push ahead in the fourth on Derek Turocy's RBI single. After Mentor tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, Joe Tuchek took the lead back with an RBI hit in the top of the seventh. Tuchek would finish the night with two hits, a run and that RBI. The way the Cardinals kept coming at their adversary exemplified how feisty they were all season.
"We fought all year long," claimed Koenig. "We showed such energy and enthusiasm."
A lot of that energy was displayed one day before the loss to Mentor Lake in the regional semifinal game against Canton South. Canfield clobbered the Canton kids 14-1 in that game setting up the showdown with Mentor. Every Cardinal who started the game got a hit against Canton South starter Logan Bowles. Making that impressive feat even more amazing was that Bowles had been bowling over opposing hitters all year and entered the game undefeated. He will be attending Ohio State next year, but against the Cardinals, Bowles wasn't worth a "Buck."
Mike Ross and his brother Anthony each paced their team's sixteen hit attack with two RBIs. Thanks to the Ross', Canfield scored two runs in the second and two more in the fourth to take control of the contest. Two run innings in both the sixth and seventh put the Cardinals in the regional finals.
"We were really excited to win that game," said Koenig. "To win and get to the regional finals is something the kids were looking forward to."
Instead of looking forward to a Final Four appearance, all the Canfield kids have to look forward to now is next season. Before saying hello to 2013, the Cardinals have to say goodbye to a large group of seniors who played their final game in Hudson last Friday. Rhoads was a strong hitter and the main man on the mound late in games. Tuchek was a starling starting shortstop and top run producer. The Ross twins terrorized opposing pitchers all year. Ben Angelo brought speed and great outfield defense to the squad. Justin Summer, Ryan O'Hara, Michael Wittman and Tony Mehle all saw action on the hill during the tournament and were effective both throwing the ball and hitting the ball. It is a great group that will certainly be missed.
"I thanked them for four great years," said Koenig about what he told the seniors following the loss. "They accomplished a lot and taught the younger kids how to win. I hope next year's group is in the same position."
That group coach Koenig is referring to will be headed by a pair of potential front-of-the-rotation starters.
"We will be bringing back two pitchers in (Derek) Turocy and (Alec) Buchenic," Koenig announced excitedly. "We also have a nice group of sophomores. These kids learned how to win this year."
One more win would have sent the Cardinals to Columbus, but that painfully didn't happen. That one pitch to Zach Hawkins may have eliminated the Cards from the playoffs, but it didn't eliminate the excitement of a 20-win season.
"If someone would have told me at the beginning of the year that we'd be in the game to get to Columbus, I'd been really happy," said Koenig emphatically.