by Michael Leonard
Hudson -- The profile of the Hudson and Cuyahoga Falls baseball teams coming into their Division I district semifinal couldn't have been more different.
The Explorers came in ranked No. 4 in the state coaches poll and were seeded second in the district.
By contrast, the Black Tigers came in six games below .500 and as the No. 12 seed in the district.
As Falls head coach Jim Farrell pointed out, though, records matter not in the postseason.
The Black Tigers gave Hudson a test, but the Explorers passed it and scored a 4-2 win May 19 at The Ballpark at Hudson.
Hudson improved to 22-3 on the season, while Falls ended its season at 8-15.
The Explorers were set to play in the ditrict final game against top-seeded Walsh Jesuit (25-0) May 20 at The Ballpark at Hudson. The Warriors defeated Wadsworth 9-3 in the other district semifinal May 19 at Hudson.
Explorers head coach Buddy Dice said he knew the Black Tigers would be a tough challenge.
"They're a hot team," Dice said. "They beat Brecksville and Stow and they came out swinging. We did what we had to do."
Farrell paid tribute to his squad, which he said managed to stay together despite starting the season at 0-7.
"We were able to find a way to start playing good baseball," Farrell said. "To regroup and start playing like well says a lot about out kids. I had some great parents and some great kids this year. I'm proud of them."
Hudson starting right-hander Nanak Saran was involved in a pitcher's duel earlier this season against Falls, which the Explorers won 1-0.
This time, it was Falls' Billy Marting (4-2) who matched Saran pitch for pitch early.
Although Saran wasn't at his sharpest, he improved to 7-0 on the season. Saran gave up two earned runs on just three hits, but had six walks in his 5-2⁄3 innings of work.
"He's a great competitor and he battled," Dice said. "He was very efficient."
Falls scored its first run in the top of the fourth.
Mike Kaser drew a leadoff walk, stole second, went to third on a ground out and came home on an RBI double from Ryan Horrigan.
However, Hudson came back with three runs in the in the bottom of fourth, thanks in the large part to the bottom of its order.
Dan Joseph opened with an infield single and stole second. After Saran was intentionally walked, Jared Hoffman came through with a run-scoring single up the middle.
"That kid [Hoffman] won the game for them," Farrell said. "He came up in a big spot and came through."
After a bunt single by Dean Miller loaded the bases, catcher Sam Evans hit a two-run single to short right to make it 3-1 in favor of the Explorers.
The Black Tigers came back with a run-scoring single by Nick Winar in the top of the fifth.
Hudson answered back in the bottom of the fifth. Joseph hit another infield single and stole second. After a single by Kevin Zullo, Joseph scored on a sacrifice fly by Saran to make it 4-2.
Falls had a golden chance to tie the game in the sixth when three walks by Saran loaded the bases.
Dice then pulled Saran out of the game and brought in closer Ian Swan, who got out of the jam by getting Austin Riegler to ground out to second.
Black Tigers' relief pitcher Ben Nelson struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth. He then led off the seventh with a single.
However, Swan got Winar to hit into a fielder's choice, struck out Kaser and got Cody Verchio-Davis to pop out to first base to end the game.
Swan got his fourth save of the year.
"I believe he's a great pitcher," Dice said. "He has just been stuck behind two great seniors this year. He has done he job."
Hudson reached district play with a 6-1 victory over Brunswick May 16 at The Ballpark at Hudson.
The Explorers got a little bit of revenge against the Blue Devils. Last year, Brunswick earned a 3-0 victory over Hudson in the Hudson district title contest.
Right-hander Kevin Zullo (5-1) got the win on the mound. Swan relieved Zullo in the seventh.
The Explorers scored once in the first inning, four times in the second and once in the third.
Brunswick scored its only run in the fifth.
The Explorers had seven runs and zero errors. Brunswick had seven hits and three errors.
Zullo had two singles and a run batted in and Braden Wright scored two runs for Hudson.
Jared Hoffman had three stolen bases and a run scored and Dan Joseph drove in a run.
The Explorers' game with Jackson May 17 in Massillon was suspended due to rain. Hudson had a 7-1 lead in the fourth inning when play was stopped.
Hudson is scheduled to travel to Berea-Midpark May 21 and then host Senior Night against Shaker Heights May 22. Game time both days is set for 4:30 p.m.