ALLIANCE — The Class EE Ohio Hot Stove state championship game between the North Ridgeville Gladiators and the Sheffield Venom had everything you could ask for in a baseball game — great defense, even better pitching, a seventh-inning, game-tying home run, controversial calls and two pitchers battling for the better part of 10 innings.
In the end, none of it mattered.
Sheffield ran out of players.
Three ejections left the Venom (17-4) with only seven eligible players in its batting order, forcing it to forfeit the title game in the 15-16-year-old age group to the Gladiators.
Although North Ridgeville (18-0-1) had just taken 2-1 lead with two out in the top of the 10th inning when the game was ended under Hot Stove rules, it will go down in the record books as a 7-0 Gladiators win with all individual stats counting.
“In all my years in baseball I have never been involved in anything like today,” Gladiators assistant coach Sean Wensing said. “Just from a back-and-forth tight game and then how it ended, never seen anything like it.”
Wensing was filling in for head coach Timo Quintana, who was unable to be with the team.
The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the sixth inning when the Venom took a 1-0 lead on Jake Scott’s RBI grounder that scored Seth Jackson, who had led off the inning with a ground-rule double.
Shortly thereafter, things started to unravel for Sheffield. Two batters later, second baseman Ryan Waechter was ejected after shouting a vulgarity and slamming his bat after striking out.
Gladiators first baseman Tyler Heyduk sent the game into extra innings with a seventh-inning solo home run over the center-field fence. Heyduk also came in to pitch in the ninth inning and would have been the winning pitcher.
Heyduk probably spoke for his teammates and most of the fans at Butler Rodmen Park when asked to describe how the game unfolded from his vantage point.
“It all seemed like something that wouldn’t actually be in game. It was like a video game,” Heyduk said. “We expected a close game, we knew Sheffield was a good team. No matter how it ended, it feels good to win a state championship. It’s how it was supposed to end.”
In the bottom of the seventh, Venom left fielder Devin Blotzer was ejected after the umpire ruled he threw an elbow at a North Ridgeville infielder while trying to break up a play at second base.
Although the Venom was playing with eight players and an automatic out in its lineup, it nearly won the game in the bottom of the eighth.
Pitcher Braydon Willbond singled to lead off the inning. After he moved to third on a bunt and a wild pitch, North Ridgeville intentionally walked the bases loaded with two outs to set up a force out at any base.
With the chance to win the game, Kaleb Perry, the No. 10 hitter in the Venom lineup, worked the count full against North Ridgeville starter Ryan Calvert. At first glance, Calvert’s 3-2 pitch looked to be low and inside and Sheffield was getting ready to celebrate, but before Perry could leave the batter’s box the umpire called ‘strike three” and the game continued.
Willbond was dominating at times, worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning and finishing with 14 strikeouts, but it was his reaction to a play in the 10th inning that brought the game crashing to a halt.
With two outs and a Gladiators runner at third base, Willbond struck out Trent Miller for what would have been the third out of the inning. However, the ball skipped back to the backstop and Miller beat out the throw to first, allowing Zach Caball to come home with the go-ahead run.
Willbond argued that Miller actually fouled the ball back to the screen and it should have been a dead ball. After failing to convince the umpire, he threw his glove off the facing of his team’s dugout and became the third Sheffield player to be ejected.
With no eligible substitutes remaining on the bench, the game and season was over.
“We had great effort today,” Venom coach Mike Sheaves said. “We were taken out of the game a little bit by the umpires. I thought there were about three or four calls that changed the momentum of the game. We have a couple kids with hot heads and this is what happens. It’s disappointing to end a game this way. I guess some of the players need to keep their head in the game.”
Calvert, who had 10 strikeouts, was named the Class EE Most Valuable Player.
“Never been part of anything like this before, very strange and weird ending,” Calvert said. “After the first few innings I knew it would be a pitcher’s duel but I knew my team would have my back. I knew we were going to win. Everyone on this team has worked hard this season, I feel likewe deserved this and we earned it,”