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Solon’s one run holds up in district baseball final

Ira deals two-hit shutout to Mount Vernon
The Mount Vernon Mustangs check out the Solon Spartans and starting pitcher Dillon Drake in a Class 3A District 9 semifinal game Friday, July 15, at home against Washington. The Mustangs had just defeated Clear Creek Amana, 6-3, also in a District 9 semifinal. Mount Vernon and Solon met in the district final game Monday, July 18.

SOLON– They were two Cool Hand Lukes.
But Solon’s Luke Ira got the better of Mount Vernon’s Luke Eldred and the Spartans advanced to a substate baseball final July 20 against Fairfield.
Ira threw a two-hit shutout and a single first-inning run held up as the Spartans upset the Mustangs, 1-0, Monday, July 18, in Solon.
“Luke was fantastic,” Solon Head Coach Keith McSweeney said. “Planning for this game, we weren’t sure if we (the coaching staff) would get creative and throw several different guys at them, but after Luke struck out the side in the first, we got this feeling that he wasn’t coming out of that game.”
In two regular season games, the Mustangs pounded the Spartans by a combined 28-3 score (including a 14-0 drubbing that was a suspended game completed July 12).
But the Class 3A Substate 5 District 9 final was a pitchers’ duel with only five total hits between the two teams.
“Going into this game, we talked to our guys about playing with nothing to lose,” McSweeney said. “All the pressure was in their dugout, and if we could keep it close going into the fifth, we would be in an advantageous position to win the game.
“Yes, they took it to us during our regular season doubleheader, they are senior laden, and we didn’t play well,” he continued. “But playing games in May and June is much different than playing in the postseason. The stakes are much higher and the game is played much differently. Hats off to their pitcher for shutting us down after the first inning, but it turns out that’s all we needed as our defense took over from there and earned us the win.”
The game featured some stellar defense that allowed Ira to dodge a number of bullets throughout the game, including the final three outs.
Ira took the mound in the bottom of the seventh inning, looking for a complete game shutout.
Mount Vernon’s Tyler Elliott led off with a line drive to the gap in right-center, but Solon’s John Kessler closed in a big hurry and made a running catch for the first out.
Ira worked an 0-2 count against the next batter, Mustang senior Travis Wright, before plunking him with a pitch to put the tying run aboard.
With one on and one out, Mount Vernon catcher Trenton Baty worked the count full against Ira before rapping into a game-ending 6-4-3 twin-killing that ended with first baseman Tyler Linderbaum fully extended into the infield to catch the throw.
“Defense and pitching won us the game, without question,” McSweeney said.
The Mustangs, the regular season champions of the WaMaC East Conference, came into the game with a 27-10 record and had defeated Clear Creek Amana, 6-3, Friday in Solon. The Spartans followed that game with a 6-1 win over Washington, the same team they faced in an 11-1 victory to close out the regular season July 12.
Solon had gotten out to fast starts in the previous two games, and against the Mustangs, early offense was the only offense.
Ira reached on a wild pitch third strike and came home on Linderbaum’s RBI single in the top of the first inning for the only run of the game for either team.
Ira then worked through a series of challenging innings which featured some memorable defensive plays, including an inning-ending double play to put a stop to a bases-loaded threat in the bottom of the third inning.
In the Mustang fourth inning, an infield single and a sacrifice bunt put a runner at second with only one out; in the fifth, Ira hit two batters and Mount Vernon had men on first and second with only one out. In each instance, Ira was able to induce a ground ball or two and a couple of easy pop flies to get out of the jams.
The crowd took a collective breath when Mount Vernon’s Jack Cochrane got a hold of an Ira pitch with one out in the bottom of the sixth and took it for a ride.
Solon left fielder Spencer Wegmann began to backpedal near the track in left center but ran quickly out of room, catching the ball just before he crashed into the fence to the right of the scoreboard.
Ira came into the game with a 7-4 record and an ERA of 3.89, holding opponents to a .237 batting average, while Mount Vernon’s Eldred boasted a 5-1 record with an ERA of only 1.37 with batters hitting only .176 against him.
It was the third complete game in a row for the Solon pitching staff.
Against Washington July 12 to close out the regular season, junior Nick Hofsommer scattered four hits over five innings and allowed a single run in an 11-1 win. Hofsommer struck out five and walked four.
“Nick has been getting better on the mound as the season has progressed,” said McSweeney. “He’s found his command and has been more consistent, and as a result, we had much more confidence in him when we’ve rolled him out there lately. He’s been working very hard to improve.”
Three days later against the same Washington team in the District 9 semifinal, Dillon Drake pitched seven innings in a 6-1 win. Drake struck out six and walked only one batter while allowing six hits and only a single earned run.
“Dillon went the distance and pitched his best game of the season,” said McSweeney. “He gave us the start we needed and was able to work out of a couple jams, including the first inning when Washington started out getting the first two batters on base with no outs.”
In both cases, the Spartans came out strong offensively.
Solon scored in each of the four innings of the July 12 win, with four hitters collecting multiple hits (Linderbaum, Peyton Bandy, Adam Bock and Kendrick Harris).
Friday in the semifinal, Solon scored three runs in the second and three more in the third.
Kessler started the scoring with a sacrifice fly in the second, while a double from Bandy and a single from Ira brought two more runs across.
Bandy collected another RBI in the third before Kessler was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Harris, who knocked a two-RBI single for a 6-0 lead.
“We have really come out with energy the last two games we’ve played and that has resulted in fast starts,” McSweeney said. “It’s something we struggled to do during the season and it’s really made a difference in our team... especially in the dugout.”