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ALLIANCE -- As Ravenna and Salem Hardy Design battled into the latter innings, a Hot Stove observer happily noted how calm the game had been.
It wouldn't stay that way -- as Ravenna won Saturday's G1 Alliance Regional semifinal, 6-5, following a couple high-octane final frames.
After Hardy Design rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 5-3, Ravenna retook the lead in the sixth. Drew Nero gave the Ravenna Warriors a 6-5 advantage with his chopper past the mound, but they were left grumbling after Mason Uphold was called out on a strikeout, with the catcher having to throw to first. The first baseman's foot left the bag, but returned just in time, according to the umpire.
The seventh was more heated.
After Uphold tossed a knee-high heater for the first out of the frame, Hardy's Reed Williams reached on an error, stole second and tried to take third as well. Catcher Kyle Liddle tossed a laser down to third, and the field umpire called Williams out. After the Hardy dugout protested, the call was reversed, but Ravenna argued the appeal itself was improper because it was to the wrong umpire. After a Hot Stove official drove his cart down to the field to settle the argument, the men in blue agreed with Ravenna -- and the runner was ruled out.
"I couldn't see where the third baseman's foot was," Ravenna coach Shane Liddle said. "He could've slid into his foot and never even touched the base. I don't know."
A few pitches later, another debate ensued -- had the count to Robby Jackson been 1-1 or 2-0? The scorekeepers disagreed, and this time the outcome went against Ravenna, as Jackson took a full-count walk. Uphold rallied back to record the game's final out on a soft grounder to first.
Regardless of the controversy, it was a delightful baseball game.
Nero singled and Uphold doubled as part of Ravenna's three-run first, while Uphold also pitched two scoreless innings on the hill.
Trailing 3-0, Hardy scored three in the third, including a two-out Jackson chopper past the second baseman to knot the score at three.
Ravenna stormed back, with Nero hitting a sharp grounder to third and scoring on Uphold's bloop base hit. Nolan Harris tacked on another insurance run with an opposite-field line drive single.
But the insurance wasn't enough.
Hardy Design wouldn't go away, as Braiden Yeater took a one-out walk in the fourth and came around to score.
Even against the overbearing Uphold, who retook the mound for the sixth, Hardy Design continued to fight back, as Yeater sent a liner up the middle, then came around to score on a potpourri of errors, as he was picked off first, but sprinted all the way around the bases as the ball was thrown into the outfield and then toward the third-base dugout.
Far from shaken, Uphold replied with a knee-high heater for strike three for the first out, a nasty backdoor curve for another strikeout and blazing heat for his third strikeout of the inning.
"As long as he's able to keep his composure and the kids behind him have his back, he overcomes pretty much everything," Shane Liddle said.
A lefty with plenty of movement as well as a heater that crept into opposing hitters, Uphold finished with a single run allowed in four innings -- and eight strikeouts.
"He's a weapon and I use him," Liddle said. "I don't know how to put it, but I love having him on the team and I wouldn't want to play against him."
Uphold's delightful sixth was followed by fundamental hitting in the seventh, as leadoff hitter Dylan Wise grounded the first pitch he saw into the outfield, Kyle Liddle made contact on a tough two-strike pitch to move Wise to third and Nero chopped him home.
"That's why I put them at the top, because they hit the ball when we need it, and it's all about the fundamentals on this team," Shane Liddle said. "You can't be a successful team if you don't do the fundamentals."
Beyond the fundamentals, Liddle just wanted his team to show enthusiasm. Perhaps Saturday's heated final innings will bleed into Sunday's contest against the undefeated Canton Warriors.
"They didn't have enough enthusiasm (early on)," Liddle said. "They get to play the game that so many people love to play and aren't able to, and they're able to play, so don't take it for granted. Enjoy it while you're on the field."