DI: Latham, Lackner lead Demons to sectional title
Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Down 6-0 early against visiting Lakewood, the Westlake baseball team was in trouble. The Demons needed something big to change the momentum of the game, some kind of offensive explosion to jump start a comeback.
In the bottom of the third inning, Kyle Latham set the fuse and Jamie Lackner provided the match.
Latham’s leadoff double was followed up by Lackner’s grand slam home run to spark a five-run rally. Another leadoff hit by Latham in the fourth led to a four-run outburst as the Demons prevailed, 10-6, to win a Division I sectional tournament championship.
“This group continues to amaze me,” said veteran Westlake head coach Jeff Short, whose team moved to 18-6 on the season and advanced to next week’s district tournament in Lorain.
“I think the best way to describe them is that they just find ways to win,” Short said. “We’ve 10-run ruled one team this year and that was Holy Name, and they’re pretty good. Every other game seems to be, no matter who we’re playing or what the caliber of the talent is, a game where we find ways to win.”
Lakewood, coming off its first tournament win in years with a 6-4 decision over North Olmsted, was looking for the magic to continue.
The Rangers scored one run in the top of the first and five in the second to seemingly take control of the game early. An infield single from Marquis Tyus and a bloop single to center off the bat of Wayne Naida drove in the first two runs of the second. Then with the bases loaded, Adam Morris cleared them with a line drive double in the gap that hit the left centerfield wall on one bounce. The Rangers were looking good and the Demons appeared stunned.
Lakewood starter Marty Hartsel set Westlake down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning, but his counterpart, Westlake’s Ben Neumann, put up a zero in the top of the third to quiet the Rangers’ offense
That’s when the game took a dramatic change in direction.
Latham, the Demons’ senior catcher, ripped Hartsel’s first pitch over Dylan Bruening’s lead in left for a double. An infield single from Andrew Dunn and a single to left from Corey Bowers got the Demons on the board with runners at first and second.
After a fly out, Danny Strodtbeck walked to load the bases. Up to the plate stepped Lackner, who had popped out high and deep to left his first time up.
High and deep also described Lackner’s at bat in the third as he took a 1-1 pitch and deposited it in the parking lot in right center for a grand slam home run. Hartsel regrouped and got out of the inning without further damage, but the momentum of the game had shifted.
Lackner, the Demons’ first baseman, knew he had made solid contact. But at first, he didn’t know how good.
“The first time I faced him, I knew I was right on it. I just missed it,” Lackner said. “I knew we were going to hit him, so I just tried to put a good swing on it my next time at bat.
“It was a fastball, and it felt great. I didn’t know it was going out, so I was sprinting hoping for a double and get some runs in. I just looked up and it was gone,” he added.
Neumann faced a threat in the top of the fourth as an outfield error put Morris on second with two outs. A single to right had him rounding third and headed for home, but Kevin Neumann picked up the ball and fired a pea to Latham at the plate.
Latham made the tag, and the Demon offense went back to work.
Latham again led off, and again delivered with a sharp single to right center. After Dunn’s sacrifice bunt, Bowers singled to center to put runners at the corners and knock Hartsel out of the game.
Sophomore Jameson Foran took the mound for the Rangers and gave up an RBI single to Andy Haders that scored pinch runner Chad Clark and tied the game at 6-6. Strodtrbeck singled to left to bring in Bowers with the go-ahead run.
A sacrifice fly from Lackner and an outfield error gave Westlake two more runs to make it 9-6 heading into the fifth. Doubles from Bowers and Strodrtbeck in the sixth put some icing on Westlake’s district cake.
Ben Neumann got the win to move to 4-0, while Kevin Neumann relieved in the fifth and no-hit the Rangers the rest of the way.
Lakewood fell to 15-12, but with plenty to look forward to in the future, according to head coach Mike Ribar.
“We knew they were a good team,” Ribar admitted. “They were the two seed, and there’s a reason why they came into this game 17-6.
“We jumped out to the big lead and we got excited, but then you’ve got to make sure you keep playing. I thought we did,” Ribar said. “We didn’t let down, they just got some hits. We didn’t make many mistakes, but I told the boys that was a good team. Our guys have nothing to be ashamed of.
“We haven’t won a tournament game here in years. We’ve gone from winning four games to 15 games. We’ve made a huge jump in one year, and we’re young. We’re going to come back and be the ones that teams have to beat to get to the districts and get to the regionals.
“We know that, and we’re going to work hard to get there. But if we’re going to lose, I’m glad it was to Jeff. I know it’s his last year, and if I’m going to lose to somebody, I want to lose to somebody with that kind of style. They were down, but they didn’t fall apart and they battled back,” he added.
Lakewood will jump back into regular season play on Monday when the Rangers travel to North Royalton.
Westlake will take on West Shore Conference co-champion Midview at The Pipe Yard in Lorain Tuesday at 5 p.m. in a district semifinal game. The Middies defeated Avon Lake, 4-2, and Elyria, 11-3, to win their sectional title.
In the 2 p.m. game Tuesday, Avon will take on Amherst in the first district semifinal. The Eagles thumped Olmsted Falls, 11-1, while the Comets took out St. Edward 9-5. The district championship is scheduled for Wednesday, May 16 at 5 p.m. at The Pipe Yard.