ST. JOSEPH — When the Oakwood baseball team looks back on Saturday’s IHSA Class 2A regional championship game, they will look at how they earned it.

The Comets battled back and forth with Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin before Josh Ruch brought in the game-winning hit in the seventh to give the Comets a 5-4 win at Meier Field.

“He has been Mr. Clutch all year,” Oakwood coach Ryan McFarland said. “In the start of the season, he was always driving in runs from the bottom of the order and we needed a change in the middle of the season. We moved him up and all he did was get base hits and completely change his approach. He hurts his leg and we tell him we putting him near the bottom and focus on getting hits. He’s been doing that all year.”

With two men on, Ruch was able to get a hold of a full-count pitch from BHRA pitcher Tuff Elson and hit it to right field.

“I knew a strike was coming with a 3-2 count and I knew it would go down the plate for me. I was thinking about getting base for our fastest guys,” Ruch said. “I have hit a lot of go-ahead hits, but I never had a walkoff hit and I was waiting for that day and luckily it was today.”

The hit finished a game in which both teams would have moments. The Blue Devils — who had won its last eight games — including the upset over St. Joseph-Ogden on Wednesday, started with two runs in the second.

Oakwood would cut the lead in half when Chase Harrison brought in winning pitcher Travis Tiernan, but the Blue Devils would frustrate Tiernan in the firth with RBI singles by Elson and starting pitcher Amani Stanford.

“They beat us pretty handily six weeks ago,” BHRA baseball coach Mark Dodd said. “I think Tiernan had 10 strikeouts and we didn’t compete so it showed how much of an improvement that we made. We gave him trouble every inning.”

But Tiernan and the Comets still had moments, like two straight strikeouts in the fourth with a man on and a double play in the seventh that would keep the game tied and set up Ruch’s heroics.

“They were definitely a different team this time around,” Tiernan said. “They had a lot more confidence, so getting that double play was great at the end.”

“He had to fight through a lot of frustration and he has not had to deal with much frustration this season,” McFarland said. “They did everything well that you can do against a ace and he found a way to stop them. He worked out of jams and that is what you expect our of jams.”

McFarland said that the game and the whole regional was a great example of the play of teams in the Vermilion Valley Conference.

“It was a battle, but this whole conference battles,” McFarland said. “What can you say about our conference?? We put a lot of crowd-entertaining games.

“We told the kids you better be ready for a war because these guys had won eight straight and how can you have any fear of anybody after beating St. Joe? We told them, they are going to keep coming after you and not stop and you better be ready.”

Stanford would have three hits and a RBI, while Elson and Stevenson each had an RBI for the Blue Devils, who end the season at 17-10, but Dodd was proud of how they fought from a slow start.

“We started 0-4 and it didn’t look good and we didn’t look good,” Dodd said. “We would not have competed with any of these teams four weeks ago and we competed this week by beating St. Joe and taking these guys to the wire. I can live with that.

The Comets are 26-6-1 and continues a season of unprecedented success paced by seniors, Ruch, Tiernan, Dalton Hobick, Grant Powell, Matthew Miller, Bryson Myers, Luke Wallace and Christian Esquinca.

“This group of seniors have been with me since they were seventh graders and they had a lot of success in junior high,” McFarland said. “The Covid year took a while to recover from and I think this year, everything had a way of working out. We had Dalton and Travis ready to go through the season and it is great for a pitcher to know their time to pitch and it is great to have younger players who are ready to stand up with Derek Drews, Cort Vermillion in right and we have guys stepping up.”

Seniors like Ruch hope this success continues on Wednesday, when the Comets play Bloomington Central Catholic in a sectional semifinal at Millikin University at 7 p.m. BCC beat Tremont 16-2 in five innings on Saturday in a regional at Tri-Valley High School.

“I love them to death, I could not imagine playing with anyone else,” Ruch said.

Trending Video