MILLBURY - Lake's baseball team doesn't want its season to end.
|Lake's Josh Tantari (3) congratulates teammate Casey Conine (1) after scoring a run earlier this season. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Fresh off a district championship, the Flyers will look to keep their impressive run going in a Division III regional semifinal against a solid Bloom-Carroll team.
First pitch Thursday is 5 p.m. at Elida High School.
Lake, 24-5 overall and ranked ninth in the state, has been on a roll in the tournament, out-scoring its opponents by an average of nearly five runs per game in three wins. The Flyers' closest result was a 5-4 win over Otsego last Saturday in the district final.
Now, one of 16 teams left in the state, Lake aims to get one step closer to the state Final Four.
"The kids are excited about it," veteran Lake coach Greg Wilker said. "They enjoy being around each other. It's just carried over all year.
"They just sort of feed off each other. That's what high school sports are supposed to be about," Wilker added. "That's what I told them, 'No matter what happens, just enjoy your time together.'"
A deep pitching staff, solid defense, and a lineup that can get contributions from top to bottom have been the key for the Flyers.
Lake has an impressive team earned-run average of 1.92, and Wilker will hand the ball to No. 1 pitcher and senior Josh Tantari for Thursday's game. Tantari is 6-2 with a 2.58 ERA, striking out 62 batters in 40 2/3 innings pitched.
"Good pitching is the key," Wilker said. "That's going to keep you in every ball game. That's what we try to stress, playing good defense and good pitching."
The Flyers also have quality arms ready in relief, including senior Jake Materni (7-0, 1.92 ERA, 32 strikeouts, 47 1/3 innings) and sophomore Jayce Vancena (3-0, 10 saves, 0.88 ERA, 37 strikeouts, 31 2/3 innings).
"We have confidence we can bring those other guys in and they're going to be able to do the job also," Wilker said. "Josh (Tantari) is such a great competitor, the last two or three years he's stepped up in big league games.
"The whole key is our pitchers are going to have to be able to change it up enough."
Although Lake's offense does not have the proverbial big-bopper who can hit a home run every time up, the Flyers feature a lineup with speed and the ability to hit the ball hard.
Leading the way at the plate for Lake is senior outfielder Corey Hotmer, who is batting .383 with 29 runs batted in and 22 runs scored. First/third baseman Vancena (.351, 21 RBI, 16 runs), second baseman and senior Casey Conine (.337, 27 runs, 18 RBI), Tantari (.320, 31 runs, 13 stolen bases, 12 RBI), and senior shortstop Ryan Kohlhofer (.283, 27 RBI, 26 runs) have all put up solid numbers this season.
As for Bloom-Carroll, Wilker does not have much information on the team, as Lake had yet to play a district game before B-C had already wrapped up its district title. Coaches from B-C were at both of Lake's district games scouting. Bloom-Carroll is located in Fairfield County, east of Columbus.
The Bulldogs are 22-5 overall and ranked 12th, and are making their second straight appearance at regionals. B-C lost in the regional final at Elida last season to Tinora, 5-2.
"They seem like a very solid team. Very fundamentally sound," B-C head coach Brian Thacker said of Lake. Thacker played baseball at Bowling Green State University from 1999-2002.
"Just from the couple games we saw, it looks like they play very good defense, have solid pitching, and really hit the ball from top to bottom," Thacker added of Lake.
"In baseball in general, but especially at the D-III level, if you've got a team with nine solid hitters up and down your lineup, you're going to be a hard team to beat a lot of times, which seems is what they've got."
Thacker said he will likely start junior pitcher Jake Newton, who is 9-0 with a 1.10 ERA. Seniors Ben Kerr (4-1, 1.23 ERA) and Josh Gabbard (5-0, 2.34, two saves) could also see time on the mound against Lake.
Offensively, B-C is led by Kerr, who is batting .470. Junior middle infielder Levi Fetherolf (.465), Newton (.415), Gabbard (.375) and sophomore catcher Jarrett Peters (.375) are also leaders for the Bulldog offense.
"We've got a lot of kids who have kind of been there and done that. They really made it their goal to get back to that point (regionals) and have another chance at it," Thacker said. "We don't have one or two dominant guys to carry our team, but we're pretty solid throughout."
The winner between Lake and Bloom-Carroll will face the winner of Milan Edison and Lima Central Catholic in the regional final on Friday at 5 p.m. at Elida.