Martella’s Pharmacy is back in the semifinals of the AAABA Tournament after a walk-off 5-4 victory over the Zanesville Junior Pioneers on Thursday night at Sargent’s Stadium at the Point.
The defending tournament champions had a two-run lead dissolve in the top of the ninth, but loaded the bases in the bottom half and won when Drew Frear was hit by a pitch on the elbow on a 3-2 count with no outs.
“Our guys showed a lot of character tonight,” Martella’s Pharmacy manager Jesse Cooper said after his team improved to 4-0 and earned a spot opposite the undefeated Philadelphia Bandits at 7 p.m Friday at the Point.
New Orleans and Buffalo will play the other semifinal at noon at the Point.
“It was a great all-around team win,” said Johnstown pitcher Luke Dividock, a pick-up player from Ophthalmic Associates who threw 8 1/3 strong innings and left with a two run lead and the bases loaded in the ninth.
Zanesville (2-2), which also had a solid outing from starter Bryce Husted tied the game against reliever Phillip Dull, who managed to work out of the bases-loaded jam with a strikeout and a fly out.
Martella’s Adam Cecere opened the bottom of the ninth with a walk and moved to second on an errant pick-off attempt.
Both runners were safe on Jack Oberdorf’s sacrifice bunt attempt as reliever Sean Orillion tried to get Cecere at third.
An intentional walk to Dull loaded the bases for Frear.
“Great at-bat by Adam Cecere to get on base,” Cooper said. “It’s not easy to lay off those kinds of pitches. Overdorf great job moving the baseball. They intentionally walked Phil and you trust Drew Frear.
“He took pitches that were strikes, tough to lay off of, but he was very unselfish in that at-bat in that situation.”
Dividock made sure Martella’s had an opportunity to win late.
The right-hander from Portage had seven strikeouts and one walk while throwing 117 pitches. He retired the first six Zanesville hitters of the game and also had 1-2-3 innings in the seventh and eighth.
“This is my first time ever playing in the tournament,” Dividock said. “A lot of adrenaline coming out in front of the big crowd. I started off well and just tried to keep things rolling the whole game.”
Cooper appreciated having Dividock on his roster instead of facing him.
“That’s what we’ve seen out of that kid for the last three years that I’ve been in the league coaching,” Cooper said. “That’s why we picked him up. He kept us in that game the entire way.”
Martella’s scored a pair in the first as Jake Swank had one of his three hits, Dull was hit by a pitch with two outs, and Dylan Gearhart singled in both.
Zanesville’s Ryan Rusnak singled and scored on Luke Klinehoffer’s single in the third. Isaac Danford and Matt Gibson each singled and Chace Collins had a sacrifice fly to tie the game in the fourth.
Martella’s took a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth as Jonny Kutchman and Ray Watt each singled with two outs.
Then, a familiar hero came out of the dugout.
Pinch-hitter Omar Ward was a star on last year’s AAABA Tournament championship team and a former league MVP.
Ward injured his ankle sliding into second base during the 12th game of the Johnstown Collegiate League regular-season and hasn’t played in months.
“He’s been rehabbing it and just got cleared full-go (Wednesday),” Cooper said.
Ward didn’t disappoint, ripping a two-run single into center field.
“It was a 1-2 count. He just stepped into an offspeed pitch and drove it right back up the middle,” Cooper said. “Those are things we’ve seen for the last three years in this league. Omar Ward is a competitor. He wanted to be in that spot.
“You just have a lot of faith in a guy like that.”
The Junior Pioneers tied the game with three hits and two runs in the ninth.
The Pioneers’ setback didn’t diminish Husted’s effort. The Muskingum University product threw 129 pitches after tossing 76 pitches in a 12-2 win over Columbus on Monday. He struck out four and walked one.
“This is probably the first time I’ve ever come back on (two) days rest. I was just icing (the arm) every night,” Husted said. “I knew we were going to get to this spot and knowing that made me want to come back for it.
“Being here, seeing this crowd, first time pitching with this many people. That adrenaline definitely helped me tonight.”
Despite the loss, Husted will return to Ohio in a positive frame of mind.
“I love this tournament,” Husted said. “This is my second year here. It’s always awesome. Never disappoints.”