AKRON — Jay Luikart pumped his fist, stormed off the mound and let loose a ferocious roar.
It was the defining moment of Friday’s Division IV state semifinal game and it belonged to Hillsdale’s ace.
A hard-throwing left-hander, Luikart worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the fourth inning and the Falcons held on for a 1-0 win over Minster on a sun-soaked afternoon at Canal Park.
The Falcons (28-2) will play Toronto for the small-school state championship at 1 p.m. Sunday in Akron. Toronto beat Antwerp 8-0 in Friday’s nightcap.
The Wright State-bound Luikart needed a total of nine pitches to skate through the second and third innings before encountering trouble in the fourth. He gave up a lead-off single to Noah Enneking before recording a pair of strikeouts. Back-to-back walks to Austin Brown and Trent Roetgerman — both on full counts — loaded the bases and prompted a mound visit from Hillsdale catcher Carsten Betson.
“I just went out there to try to calm him down a little bit,” said Betson, who calls all of his own pitches. “He’s an emotional guy and if he falls behind he can get down on himself. I wanted to be there for him and calm him down a little bit.”
Luikart fell behind Adam Ketner 1-0 before regaining his composure. He got ahead in the count 1-2 then caught Ketner looking at a knee-buckling curve ball.
“I was struggling and that’s not typically me,” said Luikart, who threw 62 of his 91 pitches for strikes. “Usually I’m a guy who hits his spots. I was missing a little bit. I was nervous.
“Carsten came out and talked to me. I settled down, got in a rhythm and I was able to get the guy out. That was kind of the turning point of the game.”
Hillsdale scored the game’s only run in the top of the second. Briar Funk led off with a single and moved to second when Ty Williams drew a walk on a full count. Garrett Crites moved both runners up with a sacrifice bunt before Evan Rottman lifted a sacrifice fly to center, plating Funk.
“He started me off with a curve ball and that was not what I was looking for,” Rottman said. “I wasn’t necessarily looking for a sacrifice fly. I was trying to square something up but the fly ball got the job done.
“We would have liked to score a couple more runs there, but when Jay is on the mound I honestly feel like one (run) is enough. He has some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen.”
Luikart took care of the rest. He gave up an infield single to start the fifth before retiring the final nine men he faced. He struck out the final two batters in the sixth and the first two in the seventh before inducing a popout to first baseman Clay Schoen to end the game, sparking a wild celebration.
“I’m so happy for these guys. They’ve put so much time in,” said first-year Hillsdale coach Jason Snow, who celebrated his birthday Friday. “For them to come out and play the way they did is incredible.”
Hillsdale managed just three hits off Minster’s Brown, singles by Funk, Luikart and Garrett Goodwin. Brown struck out five and walked three.
Luikart gave up just two singles. He struck out nine and walked three.
Hillsdale will play for its first ever state title in its first Final Four appearance.
“I’ve been dreaming of this for a long time,” Rottman said. “I can’t wait.”