Saint Ignatius Edges Avon Lake to advance to Friday’s Cleveland Regional Final vs. Saint Francis

By John Fanta ’13

CLEVELAND – On a sun-drenched day at Case Western Reserve University, the Storngsville and Lorain District champions faced off at beautiful Nobby’s Ballpark. Saint Ignatius’ Tom Rolle (now 6-0, 2.90 ERA) went up against Avon Lake’s Brett Kisel (now 4-3, 2.78 ERA) in the pitching match-up. The Shoremen, who had come into the game coming off two shutout victories in the district semifinal and final, were riding in with high momentum. Saint Ignatius, who had come into the game at 24-6 with 19 wins in 20 tries, also was on a hot streak.

Avon Lake struck with first blood, but a three-run 2nd would be just enough for Saint Ignatius to earn a 3-2 victory over Kevin Marlow’s team.

Clean-up hitter Kyle Kuhar got production going early for Avon Lake, as he hit an RBI single by the glove of Saint Ignatius shortstop Tyler Finkler to bring in Jeremiah Campo. Right away, Tom Rolle would answer on the mound by getting a double play ball to short for Tyler Finkler to vacuum up and turn two with a step on the bag and a throw down to first. The momentum kept rolling for Avon Lake, as starter Brett Kisel left the bases juiced for Saint Ignatius, as he worked out of a 1st-inning jam. So, Saint Ignatius was facing a deficit after one, but the bats would not leave wasted opportunities in the 2nd inning.

After Alex Panstares walked, no-nine-hole hitter Joe Khoury ripped a single into left. Khoury has earned that nickname because he really is no typical nine-hole hitter. With runners at the corners, Illinois recruit Dan Rowbottom hit a sac fly to left to bring in Panstares, and then the big hits came. Tyler Finkler came up big with an RBI single to left to bring in Khoury, and then Conor Hennessey flared a little fly ball down the right field line that just stayed fair to bring in Finkler, who advanced to second on his RBI single.

In the 3rd, Saint Ignatius threatened again, with the bases loaded. The Wildcats knocked out Brett Kiser, who was done for the day. The player of the game for the Shoremen came in and kept Saint Ignatius from scoring in the 3rd, Logan DeLong, as he dealt 3 and 1/3 innings of scoreless ball. Avon Lake kept threatening, but Tom Rolle kept on dealing. Avon Lake left two men stranded in the top of the 5th as Rolle worked out of it, but then the 6th came. With two men on and two outs, Coach Brad Ganor took Rolle out of the game as Kyle Pluta came on. Pluta worked out of the jam to leave two Shormen on base as Saint Ignatius still clung to the 3-1 lead.

After nothing happened for the bats in the bottom of the 6th, MJ Nara came on for the save opportunity for Saint Ignatius in the 7th. Nara just could not get anything on his side, as the bulk of Avon Lake’s Kyle Kuhar ripped an RBI single up the middle with one out, and runners were still at the corners. Coach Brad Ganor came on to take the ball from the sophomore, Nara, and brought in Nick Fabian. A “Plain Dealer Player of the Week” earlier in the season, Fabian has been a “Mr. Everything” kind of guy for Coach Brad Ganor. He came on and shut the door, but it would not be easy. He got a pop fly to shallow center and a popout to left to seal the deal and keep Avon Lake from getting the game knotted up. A celebration followed, as Saint Ignatius is on their way to the Cleveland Regional Final, where they will play Toledo Saint Francis.

After the game, Coach Brad Ganor could not have been more pleased. “Pitching and defense is as far as you go, and once again, it was as far as we went. I was very, very proud of the guys to get out of it and fight. But like [Pitching] Coach [TJ] Donovan said, we must not get immersed in this game,” said Ganor. This is the deepest Saint Ignatius has gotten since they reached the State Semifinal in 2009 (loss to Cincinnati Moeller).

Now, it’s time for 27-1 Toledo Saint Francis. And oh boy, have they had a season! They are on a 26-game winning streak currently. They are led by pitcher Max Lyon, who fired a complete game in a 4-0 District Final win over Oregon Clay. Ranked  #4 in the state, Saint Francis is also led by twins Eric and Matt Zmuda (both going to Denison University). They have 13 seniors, and come off a 10-5 win over Perrysburg. After a lightning delay in the 6th inning, the Knights were able to secure a win. Reporter on the game, Jordan Strack, called Eric Zmuda “a very special player.”

So, the first pitch is at Friday at 5 pm at Case Western Reserve University’s Nobby’s Ballpark. The game will be brought to you on the Saint Ignatius Broadcasting Network, as yours truly called the 3-2 Regional Semifinal dramatic win.

Catch the entire interview with Coach Ganor here

To listen back to today’s Regional Semifinal, go to


On to the Elite Eight for Coach Brad Ganor’s Cats!

Full Regional scores to come tomorrow.