CAMBRIDGE - The baseball gods work in mysterious ways.
They conspired to produce a near impossible-to-believe outcome in Friday's Division III Sectional game at Don Coss Field. Tom Sliva's St. Clairsville Red Devils needed a pocketful of miracles to pull off a seventh-inning comeback for the ages against Bellaire.
John Patrone's Big Reds nursed a 5-1 lead and needed three outs to complete an unexpected knockout of top-seeded St. C. But the Red Devils staged a mammoth rally, stringing together six consecutive hits, good for five runs and a stunning 6-5 victory.
''In my 16 years, we've had some memorable comebacks but I can't ever remember anything like this,'' a still dazed Sliva said. "In our huddle (to start the inning), we talked about staying focused and no one making that first out. I can't even count the number of great at-bats we had. I mean, how many clutch two-strike hits did we have?''
Patrone and the Reds were nearly in denial.
''One ground ball. That's all I wanted,'' Bellaire's skipper said with a grimace.
Instead, the Red Devils hit one rope after another, culminating with Riley Carlton's two-run double down the left-field line. When Bellaire third baseman Hunter Westlake's hurried relay to the plate eluded catcher Wyatt Back and rolled into the Big Reds dugout, St. C.'s Luke Smith was waved home, setting off a frenetic celebration.
''We're down four with three outs to go. The kids could have curled up and felt sorry for themselves or they could have chosen to keep fighting,'' Sliva said.
In a subdued postgame meeting with his team, there were no words of consolation Patrone could express.
''I just told them they played hard all year, won an OVAC title, and gave themselves every chance to win a sectional championship. We just couldn't finish it,'' he said.
St. C. veteran Sammy Vincenzo jump-started the seventh-inning surge with a line drive single to center field.
Relief pitcher Matt Kinnick followed with a run-scoring double to deep left-center. Shortstop D.J. Busby belted a single up the middle before left fielder Cory Kotopka lined a 3-2 pitch to center for an RBI and a 5-3 score.
Third baseman Smith's attempted sac bunt evolved into an infield hit, loading the bases for Carlton who delivered the big blow that scored three runners.
Bellaire had erased a 1-0 deficit, scoring three times in the sixth, aided by two St. C. errors. Spencer Badia and Dalton Conroy delivered top-of-the seventh RBI hits for a 5-1 score prior to St. C.'s dramatic comeback.
''That's a solid Bellaire team,'' Sliva said. ''We fully expected a tight game. We just didn't figure it would end (like this).''
Kinnick clubbed a single, double and sacrifice fly. Busby belted a single and double, as did Carlton.
Bellaire's Nick McMahon collected three singles and a RBI. Brady Hall hammered a double.
Kinnick gained the decision in relief of Vincenzo, who fanned seven and walked two before departing. McMahon absorbed the loss in relief of Badia who struck out four and allowed two walks.
Improving to 17-6, St. C. next faces Tuscarawas Valley in a 5 p.m. Wednesday district test at Steubenville's Vaccaro Field.