WELLMAN – Everything changed in the fifth inning for the Regina baseball team.
Trailing 4-2 with nine outs to play, the Regals (14-14) sent eight batters to the plate to score four runs on four hits in the fifth en route to a 6-5 win over West Branch (12-14) on Tuesday night in a Class 2A district semifinal game in Wellman.
Luke Gallagher’s RBI double down the left-field line highlighted the frame for the Regals. Trent Hoogerwerf and Zach Galindo led off the inning with back-to-back singles and later scored, Andrew Adamec reached on an error and scored, and Gallagher also touched home on an RBI groundout from Jordan Nelson.
Deficit wiped away.
“One of the things we’ve been trying to do as a young team is to make sure we take it one pitch at a time,” Regina coach Jeff Pacha said. “We knew we were going to score runs. We knew we were going to hit the ball. The wind was blowing out and it’s not as humid today, so we knew things could happen offensively.
“Our mindset was to stay up with our energy and stay positive. Great job by our guys not panicking and not getting upset.”
Up until the fifth, the game was about as uncharacteristic as it could get for Regina, especially with ace pitcher Payton Raso on the mound.
Raso (6-0) — who entered the contest having allowed only five runs in 31 innings this season — yielded one run on two hits in the second and three runs on four hits in the third. West Branch’s offensive output in the third was led by Lucas Lamont’s two-run home run and Matt McIlrath’s solo long ball. The big-flies were the first given up by Raso since June 2014.
But the senior left-hander stormed back.
At one stage, Raso retired nine West Branch batters in a row before Brad Arp reached base with a one-out hit by pitch in the top of the seventh. Moments later, Lamont hit a double off the left field wall to put runners on second and third for the Bears, but Raso held the comeback attempt to one run via a Cole Tisinger groundout, as Raso struck out McIlrath to end the game.
“I was struggling finding the lower half of the zone, and they were hitting me pretty hard,” Raso said. “I had to dig in there and compete. If I kept making mistakes, they were to keep hitting them and capitalize.”
In West Branch’s run-scoring innings, Regina also labored to track down fly balls in the outfield gaps, corral one or two hard grounders in the infield and throw out attempted base-stealers.
The Regals were able to hold the Bears in the late portions of the game, though.
“We had a lot of struggles today, but we found a way to get it done,” Gallagher said. “It wasn’t pretty, it’s not always pretty. But we’re moving on and that’s all that counts.”
Regina will play West Burlington (20-8) in the district final at 7 p.m. Saturday in Wellman.
Although Pacha carries a young roster in his first season at the helm — there are five freshman and three sophomores on the team — the Regals also boast a senior core in Raso, Gallagher, Galindo and Jacob Gahan.
The blend of young and old is working.
“I trust every single one of these young guys,” Raso said. “We knew we were going to be young coming into the season, but we also knew we had the four seniors to guide these guys through what it takes to play varsity baseball.
“They picked me up today. They picked me up big time. I didn’t have my best stuff on the mound and they came out and gave me enough.”
Reach Matt Cozzi at email@example.com or 319-887-5409, and follow him on Twitter at @matt_cozzi.