DUBLIN, Ohio — New Albany has been here before. After rolling through last year’s tournament before falling short to eventual state champion Olentangy Liberty in the regional finals, New Albany was a bit of an underdog.
368 days later, the Eagles are no secret. As the top seed in the tournament, New Albany hasn’t snuck up on anyone. And with its talented arms, the Eagles have dominated opposing offenses, silencing bats and winning with the same formula it used in 2018.
This time around, New Albany is the favorite among a group of contenders who have combined for just one regional title in the last 20 years.
With Dublin Coffman set to host the Division I regional tournament starting Thursday, let’s take a look at what’s on tap.
Thursday’s Regional Semifinals
#2 LANCASTER (26-3) vs. #6 HILLIARD DARBY (22-7) – 2:00 p.m.
Lancaster dominated the district tournament, shutting out Briggs, Marysville and Hilliard Bradley by a combined score of 9-0. Junior five-tool stud Casey Finck has been terrific on the mound, in the field and at the plate to lead the Gales, while junior Evan Sines and senior Garrett Davis have provided big contributions.
Hilliard Darby comes in with great momentum, knocking off Olentangy (who eliminated them a year ago), Watkins Memorial and Olentangy Orange to reach the regionals. The Panthers have won 12 of their last 13 games and will look to keep rolling against a juggernaut Lancaster squad that has given up more than four runs only five times all year. Darby has been led by sophomore stud and Wright State commit Andrew Patrick, who enters with a 1.70 ERA according to PBR Ohio.
Lancaster is looking to make its first trip to the state tournament since 1985, while Darby is hoping for its first appearance ever. These teams have combined to give up four runs in six total tournament games, which should make Thursday’s matinee matchup a game of inches.
#1 NEW ALBANY (27-1) vs. #7 UPPER ARLINGTON (20-9) – 5:00 p.m.
The prohibitive favorite, New Albany enters with just one blemish on its record and a dominant team ERA of 1.27. The Eagles will look to use its talented cast of arms to take down an Upper Arlington squad that is in the regionals for the first time since 2010.
With its last trip to state coming in 2004 when the Eagles won a Division III state championship, New Albany is playing against the big boys 15 years later. Juniors Jack Sokol and Mike Sokol have dominated on the hill, combining to go 15-0 on the season. With more than a week’s worth of rest, you can expect the Eagles to go to its reliable one-two punch against an Upper Arlington team that is no slouch.
Taking down Teays Valley, Groveport and Gahanna in its run to the regionals, New Albany squeaked by in the district round, winning in the seventh inning in both games. If Upper Arlington can find a way to manufacture runs in the early going, the Golden Bears will have a chance to pull off the upset.
For Upper Arlington, first-year head coach Sam Clark has done a terrific job navigating a tough schedule in a season where the Golden Bears did not play a single game at home. With the construction of the new Upper Arlington High School taking down what was once one of the area’s best baseball fields, the Golden Bears learned how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, winning on the road and at neutral sites in 20 of 29 games this season.
Fresh off denying Olentangy Liberty a chance for a second-straight state title, Upper Arlington is hoping to take down the other team from last year’s regional final in New Albany. The Golden Bears haven’t been to state since 1990 and will face a grueling path to get there. This is a senior laden group that has experienced plenty of highs and lows together, as the trio of Sammy Sass, Tommy Dilz and Ethan Hammerberg have led the way.
With high-level talent and experience on the mound in both dugouts, Thursday’s nightcap should be a battle for seven innings. The team that jumps out first should be well positioned to advance to Friday’s regional final, as runs will be hard to come by.
The winner of Thursday’s regional semifinal games will advance to Friday’s regional final at 5 p.m.