SHELBY – It looked as if Ontario was going to run out the clock — if only there was a clock.
“That’s the great thing about baseball. There is no clock,” Shelby coach Jon Amicone said. “You play as long as you’ve got those 21 outs. That something we stress, 21 outs on defense and 21 outs on offense. We used 20 of them. Fortunately for us, we have tough-minded kids who refuse to lose.”
Shelby led 5-2 and seemed poised to pull off the upset of the defending Northern Ohio League champions while facing the reigning News Journal Pitcher of the Year in Ontario’s Paul Homan. The Whippets led 5-4 heading into the seventh inning, but shaky relief pitching loaded the bases then walked in two runs.
Yet down a run in their final at-bats, the Whippets put together enough hits to win Monday night’s contest 7-6 despite a constant rain.
“For us to grind out at-bats against the top pitcher not only in the league, but the entire area, Paul Homan is a phenomenal player. It was a total team effort. I’m proud of them to beat that caliber of a team,” Amicone said.
The victory pushed Shelby to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the league, while Ontario fell to an identical record.
“It was a must-win for our goals,” Amicone said. “Our first goal was to win the NOL. It’s tough to have must-win games this early in the season, but we put ourselves in that situation by not taking care of business in our league opener. This was on us. This is one we needed to have. The kids rose up to the challenge.”
• ANOTHER CHALLENGE: Ontario has another kind of challenge. They’ve got to recover from a gut-punch of a loss.
“In basketball if you lose on a last-second shot, you usually have a week to recover. We have less than 24 hours,” Ontario coach Dan Gorbett said. “We’ve talked about mental toughness and this type of thing, so that’s baseball. You’ve got to be resilient and bounce back.”
The Warriors play at Tiffin Columbian today at 4:30 p.m. in another NOL game.
“To get over a loss like this senior leadership has to step up and that will be a good test for them,” Gorbett said.
Ontario has plenty of senior leaders to lean on with Homan, Tyler Weber, Mason Goodwin, Mitch Zahn and Aaron Baker all multiple letter winners.
“It’s a tough league. There’s probably six teams in contention for the title and there’s seven teams,” Gorbett said. “Last year our first league loss was to Shelby and we bounced back and won the league, so that’s what I told them. Basically every game is a championship game this year, so this is a tough one.”
• RALLY TIME: All seven of Shelby’s runs came with two outs.
“They didn’t give up. They made the plays that ended the game,” Gorbett said.
Added Amicone: “It was a roller coaster of a baseball game. To play Ontario, you better bring your A-game because they are the premier baseball school in the area. For our kids to keep fighting back is exciting to see and shows the character of our kids.”