Road to the Finals
June 15, 2022 by Rich Kelly

Then finally, in the top of the sixth, Chardon regained the focus which carried the team to the state title game, scoring five runs in crisp fashion that led to a thrilling 6-5 victory over.

Coach Brian Long's Hilltoppers team has grown with a spirit of resilience that adapts to any situation it faces.

Game photos click here.

Coach Brian Long’s Hilltoppers team has grown with a spirit of resilience that adapts to any situation it faces.

In a state semi-final matchup June 10 against the Columbus Bishop Hartley Hawks, Chardon got an early lead but wasn’t at the top of its game in doing so.

Both teams stumbled in the first inning at Akron’s Canal Park, but settled down.

Then finally, in the top of the sixth, Chardon regained the focus which carried the team to the state title game, scoring five runs in crisp fashion that led to a thrilling 6-5 victory over.

“I’ve just been amazed all season at how we can come together to get things done,” Long has said on many occasions. One such time was after his team came from a stale start against Chagrin Falls in a regional contest to win, and it happened after this contest as well. “We’ve got guys 1-9 that make big plays when we need them, and it happened again tonight.”

Both teams looked nervous as the game began. The Toppers scored in the first inning as they loaded the bases on hits from Will Francis and Nolan Kirsh, along with a booted ball on the infield by the Bishop Hartley shortstop.

An attempted pickoff throw at second base by the catcher sailed into centerfield, and Francis raced home for the first run of the game.

The Hawks answered in the bottom of the inning. Two hits and a walk, with a pair of wild pitches that loaded the bases, made for some nervous moments. A sharp ground ball to the right of first baseman Jake Barker was tough to handle, but he deflected it enough as he moved to his right so second baseman Francis could get to the ball and get the out at first.

A run scored on that play, but with some oddities of baseball coming into play over the next four innings, nobody else scored, setting up the big sixth frame for the Hilltoppers (23-9).

Stone Fawcett drilled a liner to center for a single. Sophomore Leo Colombi, who had sent singles to right field in his first two plate appearances, faced a defensive setup with the centerfielder shading him, as a pull hitter, in left center.

Colombi drilled a 0-1 pitch deep into the gap in right center that rolled all the way to the wall , sending Fawcett home with the tie-breaking run.

Kyle Maronde followed with a high chopper toward the second baseman that was fielded cleanly for the first out, but it had also put the fielder on his heels enough so as to not be able to make a play at the plate.

Ethan Faber then walked, and Francis sent a shot down the third base line for a double. Christian Hall sent a high fly ball deep to left center to plate Faber, a booted ball at third base scored Francis, and Heath Fetchick drilled a single through the hole between short and third for the fifth run to seemingly give the Hilltoppers a solid lead.

This being a state tournament game, though, meant the other team also had some resilience in its arsenal. Two hits, a hit batsman, and two errors on the infield tallied four runs for the Hawks, setting the stage for a grand finale of an inning in which Long brought in Hall from the bullpen to close the affair out in resounding fashion.

Heading for Alcorn State next year, the senior did not disappoint. A sharp grounder to shortstop Hunter Greco was handled cleanly for the first out. The next hitter sent a screaming line drive to the right of Francis, who dove for the ball and caught it just before it hit the edge of the infield grass, setting the stage for one final tight moment.

A two-strike pitch was sent up the chute in front of home plate. As Hall, Fetchick and Barker all converged on it, the anticipation as to who called for the ball grew faster than local gasoline prices. Hall finally took charge for the catch, and Chardon had a date with Akron Hoban for a state title in Division II.

Colombi led the nine-hit attack for Chardon with three hits. The triple in the sixth was the big one, but the first two set the stage for the big inning in the sixth.

“I was just looking to get a fastball I could hit, and I got it,” he said amid pandemonium as the team was loading the bus for the ride home. Asked if he expected to be at this level at the start of the season, he answer was crisp and honest.

“When we started the season, I really didn’t think we had a chance to get this far,” he said.

Colombi’s recent efforts with the football team give him hope for this moment, though, as he enjoyed smiles and hugs from teammates and fans alike.

Hall was confident in his teammates as well.

“This was a great game to be part of,” he said. “We just stuck together and worked hard until things went our way.”

This game had just about all of the oddities any baseball game can have. There were catcher’s interference calls, and one questionable call on a play at first in the Hawks’ sixth frame nearly sabotaged the great inning put forth by the Hilltoppers in taking the lead.

Fortunately, the umpires got together, figured it out, and Francis made a play for the third out to thwart the threat with his team’s lead intact. Then Hall did his thing as the closer to send Chardon to the biggest game of the season.

“There were some really strange things going on in this game,” Long said. “I have to admit, though, that this was a very good crew of umpires; they helped each other out on tough calls, they were consistent, and that’s what has to happen at this level.”

Beside Colombi’s trio of hits, Francis also had a pair of safeties and scored two runs. Opportune hitting came to the forefront in this game, and Chardon’s defense made big plays late in sending the Hilltoppers to their first state title game in the sport since 1950.