CALIFORNIA — Having a full week off prior to the Class 3 District 14 Tournament may have actually worked against the Blair Oaks Falcons.
Blair Oaks, ranked No. 9 in Class 3, was riding a seven-game winning streak at the end of the regular season. However, the Falcons had to wait seven days before beginning the postseason against the Warsaw Wildcats in the district semifinals.
The Wildcats, the No. 4 seed in the district, were primed for an upset Monday, holding the Falcons off the scoreboard for the first four innings.
However, the fifth inning didn't follow the script for Warsaw.
"It's really hard to not press, and our guys want to win and we expect to win," Blair Oaks coach Mike DeMilia said after the Falcons rallied for eight unanswered runs to win 8-2. "When things don't go the way you want at first, the pressure builds on you, and we felt it a little bit.
"But we've been in a number of tough games this year against good teams, and we were able to keep playing."
The game followed a similar pattern to that of Blair Oaks' 3-1 win earlier this month against Centralia. In that game, the Panthers scored in the top of the first inning, and it took until the bottom of the sixth before Blair Oaks scored all its runs.
"The only difference was I thought we had the offense going against Centralia," DeMilia said. "It just wasn't going tonight."
Warsaw also scored a run in the top of the first inning against Blair Oaks. Matt Luebbert pitched a scoreless inning for the Wildcats, then left-hander Logan Strunk relieved him in the second, throwing at a different speed to keep Blair Oaks batters off-balance for three innings.
The Falcons finally got the offense going in the fifth, as Hunter Forck reached on a fielder's choice and Nolan Hair drew a four-pitch walk. The next batter, David Dell, blasted a double to center field, scoring both Forck and Hair to give Blair Oaks a 2-1 lead.
"He's been our most consistent hitter this year," DeMilia said of Dell. " He had a couple of decent hacks earlier in the game. I felt good with him up there."
Hair took off on contact, while Forck held up until the ball just made it past Luebbert's reach in the outfield. Hair trailed Forck by only a few steps as they finished circling the bases, with Forck scoring standing up and Hair sliding head-first across home plate a second later.
"I was just hoping he wouldn't pass him," DeMilia said of Hair.
Later in the fifth, Dell scored on a sacrifice fly and the Falcons plated another run on an error to take a 4-1 lead.
"Once we got the ball rolling in the fifth, we took off from there," DeMilia said.
Blair Oaks scored four more runs in the sixth. Kamron Morriss hit a two-run double, while Hair and Parker Bax each had RBI doubles to make the score 8-1 heading to the seventh.
Like Warsaw, Blair Oaks also made an early pitching change. Jacob Rademan allowed just one hit through 2 innings, but four walks and two hit-batters led to some early troubles for the junior right-hander.
Had it been a regular-season game, DeMilia said he likely would have stuck longer with Rademan on the mound, but he chose to bring in Cade Stockman from the bullpen in the win-or-go-home contest.
"Cade came in and he's pitched some big innings last year in the district tournament," DeMilia said. "I was very comfortable going to him."
On Stockman's first pitch, Warsaw attempted a double-steal, but Maclaine McCarter threw out Jack Gardner at second base. Four pitches later, Stockman got a fly out to escape the jam and keep the Warsaw lead at just 1-0.
"Maclaine did a great job," DeMilia said. "Their guy (on second base) got a great jump, and he realized the guy on first didn't have it, so he threw to second and it was perfect. That was a huge play in the game."
Stockman pitched 4 innings to get the win, holding Warsaw to one run on four hits. He also struck out four and walked one.
Joey Mace went 2-for-2 with a double and a triple for Warsaw (8-13).
Blair Oaks (18-11) will play third-seeded California (14-8) at 5 p.m. today for the district championship. The Pintos defeated second-seeded Cole Camp 12-6 in Monday's other semifinal game.
The Falcons wrapped up the regular season May 6 with a 9-0 win at California. Dell pitched a two-hitter in that game, and DeMilia said he plans to throw Dell again in today's rematch.
"It's a new day, you just never know," DeMilia said.