by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
Canton -- Maybe it wouldn't have made any difference.
Maybe it meant everything.
One way or another, the Hudson baseball team's final game of 2014 may be remembered for a simple ball-and-glove exchange.
The Explorers lost a 5-2 decision to Massillon Jackson in a Division I regional title game May 30 at Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium in Canton.
Hudson, which made its first trip to the regional title game since 2000, finished 26-5.
The game turned against the Explorers in the first inning.
After leaving the bases loaded in the top of the first, Hudson gave up three runs in the bottom half of the inning.
The third run may have left the most sour taste in the Explorers' mouth.
Trailing 2-0 with runners on second and third, Hudson senior right-hander Nanak Saran was called for a balk.
That allowed Polar Bears' senior designated hitter Seth Vellucci to score from third base.
"One of the umpires said Nanak dropped the ball," Explorers' second-year head coach Buddy Dice said. "Nanak said he didn't drop it. He said he was just changing his grip."
Of course, since Hudson finished with just four hits against Jackson senior ace left-hander Tim Turner, it was safe to say the balk might have been a moot point.
Don't try to tell Dice that.
"I think it does matter," he said. "That takes away a run and it's 3-2 instead of 4-2. You never know what can happen."
Alas, the call stood and the Explorers faced a three-spot just moments after they got their feet wet.
So what happened?
For starters, Hudson had something going in its first at bat.
With two outs, senior right fielder Joey Cahill smashed a double to right-center field. The next batter, senior first baseman Kevin Zullo, was hit by a pitch. Zullo was shaken up after Turner's fastball hit him in the leg. He stayed in the game.
Saran then drew a walk to load the bases, but Turner got out of the jam when he struck out sophomore designated hitter Ian Swan.
Turner ended up going the distance on the mound. He threw 112 pitches and finished with seven strikeouts in seven innings of work. He walked one batter and hit two others.
"The first inning was huge, especially since we got some good swings," Dice said. "Their pitcher did a phenomenal job."
Jackson's offense immediately went to work.
The Polar Bears scored three runs in the bottom of the first on four hits.
Senior center fielder Jake Miller drove in the first run with a high chopper that sailed over Explorers' senior third baseman Dan Joseph's head and into left field. Senior right fielder Mike McCann added a run-scoring double.
Hudson took advantage of an error to score its first run in the top of the second.
After junior center fielder Dean Miller led off the inning with a single, he was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by senior catcher Sam Evans.
After a flyout, senior Braden Wright hit a towering popup. Jackson sophomore shortstop Jake Pallota had a play on it, but senior second baseman Kyle Mottice inadvertently ran into Pallotta as the ball hit Pallota's glove.
The ball ended up falling to the dirt and Wright scored from second.
Jackson made it 4-1 in the fourth.
With two outs and no one on base, senior catcher AJ Kloehn ripped a single to center. He then stole second and scored on a run-scoring single by Mottice.
The Explorers got a run back in the top of the sixth when Swan had a run-scoring single. The next batter, Dean Miller, appeared to be hit by a pitch. Dean Miller went to first before the umpires huddled together.
After a long discussion, it was ruled that the ball hit Dean Miller's bat, so the call was changed to a foul ball. Dean Miller eventually flied out to center for the third out.
"Two of the three umpires said it hit his hand," Dice said. "The third-base umpire said it hit his bat. There are 21 outs and every one of them is crucial."
Once again, the Polar Bears responded in the bottom half of the inning. And once again, it was Mottice who played a critical role.
The standout second baseman got his fourth hit of the game when he drilled a run-scoring double to deep left. Mottice ended up being gunned down at third as he tried to extend his double into a triple, but Jackson got a crucial insurance run.
Turner made sure it didn't go to waste.
The George Mason University (Va.) recruit, who threw 112 pitches, retired the order in the seventh to finish the game.
Mottice led the way with two singles, two doubles, two runs batted in and a run scored.
Saran (7-1) took the loss. He pitched four innings before he was relieved by Swan, a right-hander, in the fifth.
Hudson had four hits and no errors. Jackson had 11 hits and one error.
The Explorers haven't reached the state semifinals since 1997. But it was Hudson's second trip to regional play in three years.
Dice said goodbye to Saran, Wright, Zullo, Cahill, Joseph, Evans and fellow seniors Pete MacKay, Jared Hoffman, Chris Seibert, Michael Cavoli and Sam Gundling.
"We had a quality year and got tremendous senior leadership," Dice said. "They are great young men who are going to be successful in life."