Holding a regional championship trophy, Perkins senior Luke Fraley said there were no words to describe the feeling.
There were, however, words to describe the bottom of the eighth inning of Friday's Division II regional championship game against Bryan at Tiffin University's Heminger Field.
On the mound in a scoreless tie, Fraley took a line shot off his throat. Not only did he stay in the game and pitch 10 shutout innings, he also had the game-winning RBI in the top of the 10th when he lined a single to left, sending the No. 10-ranked Pirates (26-5) to the state semifinals for the second time in program history.
Perkins will face No. 1-ranked Bloom-Carroll (27-2) at 7 p.m. Friday at Huntington Park in Columbus — home of the Triple-A Columbus Clippers.
“Pitchers are taught to react and put a glove on the ball, so that's kind of my fault for hurting myself there,” Fraley said. “It hit me right off the throat and right away my first instinct was to look for the ball and get it to first. Then I had to take the time to realize what had happened, and I was choking up a little bit.
“I had to swallow a couple of times and get the feeling out of my throat,” he added. “After that adrenaline kind of kicked in and took the pain away, then I was fine.”
In one of the signature performances in area history, Fraley threw 119 pitches in his 10 innings of work, striking out six, walking one and hitting two batters. It came one day after teammate Braun Miller struck out 14 of the 18 outs recorded in a 10-0 win over Keystone in the semifinals.
“You can put it right there with the best of them,” Perkins coach Ray Neill said of Fraley's performance. “And to do it off a gem of a performance by your teammate from the day before? Luke has been a leader all year, and was our best pitcher all year up to (Thursday) when Braun throws a game that quite frankly not many kids throw.
“Luke goes out — the numbers won't be as gaudy — but in a little bit bigger environment, and with a whole lot at stake, he got it done,” Neill added. “You have to be good, you have to be lucky. The baseball gods were with the Perkins Pirates today.”
It became apparent fairly early that a single run was going to win the game, as neither Fraley or Bryan pitcher Jordan Bostater were running into much trouble at all.
Ironically, however, Fraley was off the mark in the first inning, but a relay throw from his first baseman saved the Pirates' season. After registering a strikeout to open the bottom of the first, Fraley hit a batter, then walked a batter to put two on with one out.
Bostater then lined a single to right, and rather than play for bases loaded with one out, Bryan coach Jeff Inselmann sent the runner. Perkins right fielder Tanner Trent made a clean throw to Connor Mapus, who from the cut of the grass gunned the ball to catcher Tyler Puckrin, who applied the tag to get the runner out at home plate.
For the next nine innings, a runner reached third base only three times combined between the two teams. Mapus, taking it in stride after the game, pointed out why Coach Neill has him playing at first base.
“Because I'm not good enough to play middle infield,” Mapus said with a grin from ear-to-ear.
“Tanner makes a great throw, then we get a great throw from our first baseman who wasn't good enough to play second or short,” Neill said. “It kind of sums up our season and the type of team we have.”
Perkins had a runner at third with two outs in the fourth, and again in the ninth when Thane Walton doubled and advanced to third with two outs, but again couldn't get brought in.
Puckrin led off the top of the 10th with an infield single, and was promptly sacrificed over on a bunt by Miller for one out. Tanner Trent then reached on a fielder's choice, as Puckrin was gunned down at third to allow Bryan (21-9) to get the lead runner out.
But leadoff hitter Devin Dubbert came through with a single down the left field line, putting Trent at third. After hitting the double in his previous at bat, Walton was intentionally put on, bringing up Fraley.
Playing on the field he will play his college career on, Fraley wasted no time lining a pitch to left field to bring in the game's only run. Dubbert was gunned down at the plate as Neill was trying to get an insurance run, but Fraley didn't need it by retiring the side in order in the bottom of the inning to clinch the Pirates' state berth.
“I'm happy and humbled, and happy my defense came to play today,” Fraley said. “I guess it's more along the lines of, we didn't know what to expect this year. We started out at 1-2, and lost a couple to teams we shouldn't have, and now we're going to state. The feeling is unexplainable.”
With Bostater and Fraley matching up zeroes with each other on the scoreboard, Fraley said he never once got too nervous.
“Pressure is how you act,” he said. “If you show you are agitated, there is more pressure. If you show you're not, it's not as prevalent or well known. You just have to go out there to be determined to get all three outs and put them away.”
On the same day his 4-year old grandson got his first baseball glove, Neill talked about getting back to Columbus for a second time in his 19 years at Perkins. The Pirates also made it in 2007 and fell to Canfield, 4-2.
“This is a game of percentages, it's almost like flipping a coin,” Neill said. “I felt by the fourth inning or so we were probably looking at a 1-0 game for someone. It was a well-played and well-umpired game. To think nine innings later, we throw a kid out at home in the first inning.
“We were fortunate to get someone across that white thing, whatever shape it is,” he added. “All I have to do is sit there and touch my ear, nose and chin and let these kids do their thing, and it's a pretty special feeling in the dugout with these kids right now.”