SHELBY — Blaise Caudill would have liked to slam the door himself, but Shelby’s junior right-hander knew closer Zack Hartz was up to the task.
Caudill worked 6.2 innings and Hartz recorded one high-leverage out for the save as the Whippets held off Ontario for a 5-3 win in the Division II sectional championship game at Shelby High School.
The Whippets (12-10) scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth to break a 1-1 tie and take a comfortable 5-1 lead to the seventh before Caudill encountered trouble. He walked Andrew Cacchio with two out and the bases loaded to force in a run and gave up an infield single to Caden Armstrong to plate another, making it 5-3.
With the bases still loaded and the potential game-tying run standing at second base, Shelby coach Jon Amicone summoned Hartz from the bullpen.
“My heart was pounding, but I just needed to go in there and throw strikes,” Hartz said. “I knew my guys would back me up as long as I threw strikes and made them put the ball in play.”
Hartz did just that, inducing a game-ending groundout to short.
“Hartz has been our closer all year,” Amicone said. “Obviously, Blaise wanted the ball and he had gotten us that far, so I was going to give him every opportunity to finish the game.
“I could tell that his tank was getting close to empty, so we went to Hartz and he did what good relievers do. He threw strikes and we were able to make a play behind him.”
As for Caudill, he had complete faith in Hartz.
“Zack is an amazing reliever,” Caudill said. “Everybody knows I wanted to finish that game, but Zack came in and did what he had to do. I’m very happy for him.”
Caudill helped his own cause with the biggest hit of the game in the home half of the sixth. His two-out, two-run double gave the Whippets a 5-1 lead.
“I was struggling at the plate. I just wasn’t seeing the ball real well today,” said Caudill, who had struck out in his three previous trips to the plate. “It was a 2-0 count and I was expecting a fastball and that’s what he threw.”
Ontario (13-11) struck for a run in the top of the first when leadoff hitter Avery Fisher bunted for a base hit, stole second and came around to score on Noah Creed’s double. Creed was left stranded at third and the Warriors would leave two runners on base in the third and again in the fourth.
“Early in the game the momentum was in our favor. We just didn’t take advantage of it,” Ontario coach Jeff Fisher said. “We just couldn’t find the right hole and get a big hit when we needed it.”
The Whippets pulled even in the fourth when McGwire Albert singled, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and advanced to third on Marshall Shepherd’s single. Heath Bishop then hit a slow roller to Cacchio at third and Albert headed for home. Cacchio’s throw to the plate was in time, but Albert avoided the tag at home with a nifty head-first slide.
Albert was 2-for-2 with two intentional walks to lead the Whippets. Bishop had a pair of singles while Caudill knocked in a pair of runs and Caden Payne had a run-scoring single in the sixth.
Creed, Fisher and Sam Sayre each had two hits for the Warriors. Creed and Isaac Baldridge each had a double.
The fifth-seeded Whippets will play No. 3 Norwalk in the district semifinals at 4 p.m. Thursday at Sports Force Parks in Sandusky. Norwalk advanced with an 8-5 upset of top-seeded Sandusky Perkins.
“We’ve got a lot of juniors and only two seniors. We’re a young team,” Caudill said. “We have good momentum going in and we’re excited to get the chance to play in the district.”