LOUISVILLE – The end came with a stunning suddenness.
The end of Walsh Jesuit’s baseball season; the end of Warriors coach Chris Kaczmar’s legendary career. Both came to a swift conclusion in a 4-1 loss to Kenston in Friday evening’s Division I regional championship game at Louisville.
The finality of the moment left more than a few Walsh players overcome with emotions. No one was more impacted than Kaczmar, who had announced prior to the season that this year, his 26th, would be his final one.
“I love this team with all my heart and I’m so proud of the season they had,” Kaczmar said, struggling to fight back the emotions. “It made me so happy. What I’m always going to remember is how much they loved each other.”
The Warriors (25-6) were looking to make their ninth state tournament with a win. The Bombers (17-9), instead, earned their first regional title and a spot in next week’s state semifinals at Canal Park.
Kaczmar finishes with a career record of 612-123. Walsh was in its 16th regional tournament in his tenure.
More than 20 minutes after the game’s final out landed in the glove of Bombers center fielder Bridger Bischof, players, coaches and family members were still consoling each other. Most of that attention was centered on Kaczmar, as much a father figure and friend as he was a coach to many.
“There is nothing on the baseball field that I want to talk about,” Walsh assistant coach John Ventura said. “I want to talk about Chris Kaczmar as a man and what he has meant to hundreds and hundreds of players, hundreds of families. He’s a better man than he ever will be a coach, and I think he’s the greatest baseball coach of all time, but he’s a great human being.”
That was the added burden of the loss that fell on the Warriors. They came to the plate for the first time in the game already behind 3-0 thanks to a quick strike from the top of Kenston’s order.
The first two Bombers reached bases on walks before Drew McKenna scorched a ball to left-center for a double to plate one. The second run scored when the throw in from the outfield went out of play, allowing McKenna to take third and Kenston to grab a 2-0 lead.
McKenna scored on Jake Vasil’s groundout for a 3-0 lead.
“I think it was important to just start off strong,” McKenna said. “We punched them in the mouth first and we never looked back. I think it was important that we put up runs early.”
All three of the runs came off Walsh starter and Cincinnati commit Drew Erdmann, who allowed just the one hit and two walks in one inning of work. Andrew Gormley came in to help stabilize the game for the Warriors.
Gormley, who drove in Walsh’s lone run with a double in the second inning, pitched six innings of relief, allowing one run on five hits and two walks. The only run he gave up came on a sacrifice fly by Logan Keller in the sixth to make it 4-1.
“He put us in a position to win the game,” Kaczmar said of Gormley. “He’s had a tremendous season. He’s a competitor and he’s someone I’m going to love my whole lifetime and respect my whole lifetime.”
The problem for Walsh was that its own powerful lineup struggled to come up with the big hit. The Warriors had at least one runner on base in each of the first six innings, but left six stranded.
The problem was two-fold. One was Kenston right-hander Parker Munday; the other was the Bombers’ infield defense.
Munday went the distance on the mound, allowing one run on seven hits. He struck out six and walked one.
“They were hitting the ball hard,” Munday said. I just had to wipe those thoughts out of my head that they were all going to the big leagues. I just had to go at them.”
Kenston’s infield made sure they had Munday’s back. They turned double plays in the second and third innings to negate Walsh threats, then received a spectacular diving play near the bag by second baseman Shane Rothlisberger to end a fourth-inning rally.
The Warriors finished 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position in the game.
“So many lineouts today is one of the reasons we’re in tears,” Kaczmar said. “We love the game, and at times it can be painful like it was today. Kenston played an extremely good game, and they should be proud of their season. We are gracious in defeat to a great game that they played.”
Reach Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @ceasterlingINDE