LANCASTER — As Ryan Schwartz approached home plate and prepared to be mobbed by happy teammates following a three-run homer, the third baseman decided to put a little extra emphasis when he touched home.
“I never thought I’d do something like that. This was the first home run I’ve hit since little league,” Schwartz said. “To see everyone come through in the clutch and then to be able to come through for my teammates, it’s very gratifying.”
Schwartz’s three-run homer over the left field fence on Thursday provided the knockout blow in a five-run seventh that sent Circleville Post 134 to a 7-2 win over Beverly-Lowell Posts 389/750 at Beavers Field.
The defending state champion Panthers (22-16) advance to the winner’s bracket final for the third time in four years, where they’ll face Wayne County Post 68 (29-7) today at 7 p.m. A win would guarantee the Panthers a spot in the championship round of the double-elimination tournament.
Ty Lau and Cam Farley strung together back-to-back singles with one out in the seventh. Nick Salyer followed with a single to the right field gap to knock in Lau with the go-ahead run to make it 3-2.
“I was 0 for 3 and wasn’t really having a good night at the plate, so I just focused in on looking for a fastball, because (Tyler Bradford’s) pitch count was getting up there,” Salyer said.
Bradford, who had reached the 105 pitch count limit, was replaced by Seth Dennis. Cline promptly greeted the new pitcher with a single to right to drive in Farley, but was retired trying to stretch the hit into a double.
After Lane Larson was hit by a pitch, Schwartz stepped to the plate and smacked a 3-2 pitch over the left field fence to give the Panthers plenty of breathing room.
“I hadn’t done much at the plate in my three previous appearances, so I just washed that and focused on trying to extend our lead,” Schwartz said. “Once I got to a full-count, I knew he’d have to bring me a fastball and he gave me a good one to hit.”
Post 134 coach Jeff Lanman wasn’t surprised by the late-inning heroics from his team.
“We’ve done that five or six times in the last couple of weeks,” he said. “We’ve really learned to compete over the second half of the season and to keep on grinding, and that’s what I’m really proud of with this group of guys.”
Salyer, who fought through control issues in the first two innings, retired 14 of the last 15 batters he faced — interrupted by a bunt single by Brett Gandes in the sixth — before reaching the 105 pitch count limit two outs into the seventh. Max Brooks came onto record the final out of the game.
“I wasn’t throwing as many strikes as I needed to early in the game, but I started getting ahead more in the third and I was able to find my groove,” Salyer said. “I kept thinking back to last year where Beverly-Lowell scored two runs early, but then I went on to retire 13 in a row.”
Salyer allowed three hits and a pair of unearned runs in the second. The Teays Valley graduate walked a batter, hit three and struck out four.
“Nick didn’t have his best stuff tonight, but he’s a competitor and minimized the damage early,” Lanman said. “Lane Larson did a great job of working with Nick behind the plate and then Nick was able to get into a zone and really finish the game strong.”
In a rematch of last season’s state championship game, the Panthers struck in their opening at-bat when Lau scored on a two-out error in the first.
Beverly-Lowell (26-8) took its lone lead of the game in the second.
An error on a ground ball hit by Tate Engle with two outs allowed Luke Nelson to score and Bradford was hit by a pitch one batter later to force in Mason Long to make it 2-1.
After allowing an unearned run in the first, Bradford cruised through the next three innings. He struck out three batters sandwiched around a single by Andrew Grcic in the second and then struck out the side in the fourth.
Grcic sparked the Panthers in the fifth by leading the inning off with a double to right center. Following a sacrifice bunt from Cody Kennedy, Lau singled to right to score Grcic and tie the game at 2-2.
“Andrew had a nice night at the plate and that was a big hit there in the fifth to give us some energy,” Lanman said. “Cody and Ty then did a great job of executing to tie the game.
“Except for the seventh, the middle of our lineup struggled for most of the night. Getting contributions from other spots in the lineup was a key to the win, and that’s what it’s going to take if we want to repeat as state champions.”
Grcic, Farley and Lau finished with two knocks apiece for the Panthers, who out-hit Beverly-Lowell 11-4.