STEUBENVILLE - Ohio's Division III Sweet 16 baseball field is set.
For the first time since 2003, the Bellaire Big Reds are part of it.
Seven players drove in runs Friday night, with Nick Patrone, Hunter Westlake, Tyler Ramsay and Nick Hall all knocking in two each, as Bellaire thumped Fort Frye, 15-6, in a district final at Vaccaro Field.
Photo by MIKE PALMER
Bellaire’s Hunter Westlake slides past the tag of Fort Frye’s Chandler Lang during action of their Ohio Division III District Final on Friday.
Bellaire (18-7) will play Marion Elgin at 5 on Thursday afternoon in the first of two regional semifinal tilts at Chillicothe's Paint Stadium. The opening game, set to begin at 2 p.m., pits Frankfort Adena and two-time defending state champion Wheelersburg. The two winners will battle for state berth at 5 p.m. Friday.
The Cadets finished 21-3.
This marks the second straight season an Eastern Ohio OVAC team has reached the regional. Harrison Central, led by recent OVAC Bill Van Horne Coach of the Year honoree Justin Clifford, went all the way to the state semifinals last season in D2.
''We haven't won anything yet,'' an excited, yet cautious, Big Reds coach John Patrone said after his team accepted the district championship hardware.
''So, we're going to have to go talk to Coach Clifford this week. He always says to take things pitch by pitch and that's how we're kind of looking it.''
Really, that's how Bellaire has approached its entire season. Friday, the Big Reds used about every scenario possible to attack the Cadets.
Power hitting, smart baserunning, crafty pitching. You name it and chances are Bellaire put it to good use.
''We were taking what they were giving us,'' Patrone said. ''The guys did a good job of executing. We made some errors and we missed a couple of bunts, but we got guys on and we produced.''
Bellaire committed six errors, but offset that by banging out 14 hits.
Fort Frye committed four miscues itself, three of which helped the Big Reds go up 6-0 in the second.
''We just made a lot of mistakes,'' veteran Fort Frye coach Sonny Bidwell said. ''Every part of our game had mistakes and that hurt us.
''Like pitching. We can't give 0-2 counts to people and we gave them good pitches to hit. Defensively, when they hit it they hit it a little bit harder and it was a little tougher to field.
''Bellaire is a fine, fine team and we wish them lots of luck. I'm proud of my kids. We battled, but it just wasn't enough today.''
Certainly getting behind six runs early wasn't part of his team's recipe for success.
''It's hard to fight back against a team like that,'' Bidwell said. ''They have hitters all the way through and they did a nice job.''
That's true. Every Bellaire batter had a hit except leadoff man Tyler West. He reached base three times (two fielder's choices and an error) and scored twice.
The Cadets did fight back, plating two runs in the third and two in the fourth to trim their deficit to 6-4.
But Ramsay doubled to lead off the fifth and that opened the floodgates for Bellaire again. The Big Reds batted around again, and scored six runs again to assume a commanding 12-4 lead.
This time, they wouldn't let the Cadets get close.
''Every time we thought we had them, something would happen and they'd start to creep back in,'' Patrone said. ''I told they guys you can't let them hang around because they're a great team. They have 21 wins for a reason.
''I didn't want to get into a play not to lose mode. I wanted to play to win, play to win, play to win.''
And they did. Bellaire stayed aggressive at the plate, on the bases and on the mound.
Badia stayed in the game until fatigue got to him in the seventh and, along the way, his teammates tacked on three more insurance runs.
''We just have to worry about what's happening today,'' Patrone said. ''You lose and you're done. There's no tomorrow.''