Hawken sophomore Lucas Brandt went the distance in leading the Hawks to a 2-1 win over South Range in a Division III Massillon Regional semifinal on Thursday.
With the win, the Hawks improved to 19-5 overall and will play Waynedale in Friday’s regional championship game.
The Hawks previously played in the regional tournament in 1985, 1995, and 1996, but it wasn’t until Thursday that they advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.
“It’s amazing when you think about it,” said Hawken coach Aaron Brandt, who was a senior captain on the 1986 team that won the school’s first district title. “I believe 193 teams started the Division III playoffs, and there are only eight of us left. Everybody is a quality team at this point and as I said to my guys after the game, it’s the little things that are going to make the difference in every game. Everybody’s a good team, everybody’s got pitchers and everybody’s got good players, so it’s just going to be a battle every time now. Getting a regional win is a huge, huge plus for our guys and a big testament to all the hard work they have put in.”
Brandt allowed just one run on three hits and struck out two in improving to 6-1 on the year.
“Getting the start today was huge,” Lucas Brandt said. “That was a big confidence-booster because, for me, the fact that the seniors trusted me with the ball today, with their season on the line, their last year of high school baseball, to trust me as only a sophomore in my first year playing high school baseball was huge. I was pumped up and ready to go from the start.”
Brandt’s clutch performance on the mound followed his no-hitter in the district semifinals last week. A remarkable run for the sophomore, who missed his freshman season of high school baseball after having open heart surgery in May 2021 to correct a congenital heart defect discovered that February.
“That puts it all in perspective,” Coach Brandt said of his son’s health issues. “I told the Canton Central Catholic coach when we played them in the district semifinals that winning or losing that game wasn’t as important because my son was pitching in the district tournament.”
Brandt retired the first eight South Range batters he faced before allowing a single in the third inning. He struck out the next batter to end that threat.
The Raiders broke the scoreless tie in the top of the fifth inning thanks to a leadoff walk and a single but Hawken responded with two runs in the bottom half of the inning to take the lead for good.
Tommy Clark hit a leadoff single and Asher Kimball hit a two-out single to tie the game. Khalil Suggs followed with an RBI double.
“Sometimes you hit the ball really hard and they don’t get down for hits but in that inning, we had two little bloopers that happened to drop and then Khalil Suggs came up and hit an absolute blast to left center into the teeth of the wind and it made it all the way to the base of the fence to score the second run.”
Brandt allowed a two-out single in the sixth but Dom Brancel threw out that runner attempting to steal second base. Brandt then retired South Range in order in the seventh to send the Hawks to the regional championship game.
“I don’t think I felt too much pressure because my teammates were picking me up so much and making great plays in the field and having great at-bats against their pitcher, taking him deep into counts. We threatened a couple of times early in the game, so I could feel the tide turning our way. Even when they scored in the fifth, we didn’t waiver at all. No one blinked and we came back and took the lead. Anyone will tell you that pitching with a lead is much easier and the fact that my defense was playing the way they were and Dom behind the plate was huge. He had a couple of big blocks and a big throw-out at second. I felt ultimate trust in our team to go out there and do what we needed to do.”
Khalil Suggs, Jalen Suggs, Brancel, and Kimball each had hits for the Hawks.
Chagrin Falls’ tournament run ended with a 4-1 loss to Chardon in a Division I regional semifinal.
The Tigers, who closed out the year with a 19-12 record, scored a run in the bottom of the first inning on Andrew Kirkpatrick’s two-out double but managed just three more hits the rest of the way against Chardon pitcher Christian Hall, who struck out five in his complete-game victory.
Nick Calabrese went 2-for-3 for Chagrin Falls and Calvin Hill recorded one hit.