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Here’s how Moeller and Mason set up the DI regional championship showdown

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OXFORD, Ohio – Three of the top 10 Division I teams in Southwest Ohio met Thursday in the regional semifinals at Hayden Park on the University of Miami campus.

When the dust settled, it was Moeller and Mason who staged a final regional showdown on Friday. It’s a rematch from April 20, when Moeller won 7-5 in overtime at Prasco Park.

Here’s how the area’s top two teams developed.

Moeller’s Hagen turns in another postseason gem in its win over Butler

Nine days after pitching the fourth perfect game in Moeller history in the district semifinals, Moeller senior right-hander David Hagen had another big performance on the mound, helping the Crusaders defeat Vandalia Butler 4-1.

In a complete game effort, Hagen avoided three errors and seven hits, leaving nine Aviators on the base paths. The West Virginia commit’s only error-free inning came in the seventh when he set up Butler to secure Moeller’s spot in the regional final.

“It was a great game from both teams. Really a great performance from us,” Hagen said. “A really fun game and glad I got to play all seven (innings).”

It took a long time for Hagen to dominate on Moeller’s doorstep. Hagen suffered a torn meniscus during the team’s first fall conditioning session last season. He returned in April but played in just two games during Moeller’s road to the program’s ninth state title.

“He’s just an incredible guy,” Moeller head coach Tim Held said of Hagen. “He won all these awards at Moeller. Every day he is so diligent in preparing. We knew we would get great things out of him this year.”

Hagen added: “It was great. Last year I missed most of the season with my knee. Coming back this year was great. I love this team.”

Because Vandalia threw his ace in Kentucky left-hander Hunter Richardson, the points in a scheduled pitchers’ duel were expected to be high. Richardson entered the region with a 9-0 record with an ERA of 0.71 and had not allowed more than three hits in any of his ten appearances this season.

Moeller jumped right out of the gate in front when outfielder Will McCullough led off the first inning with a single and stole a base. He raced home for the ice-breaking run on an RBI single by Matt Ponatoski, who would later score on Connor Cuzzo’s single with two outs. Ponatoski, Cuzzo and McCullough combined for six of Moeller’s eight hits.

With a 2-0 lead, Hagen settled down and got out of trouble several times. Butler left two runners on base three times. The Aviators cut Moeller’s lead to one on a fifth-inning ground ball double play by Austin Flohre.

The Crusaders answered immediately at the bottom of the frame when outfielder Forrest Day nailed a safety squeeze and Ponatoski scored. Richardson fielded the bunt, but his throw home sailed high and allowed Carter Christenson to score from second, giving Moeller a 4-1 lead. Moeller was able to tag Richardson for eight hits and four runs (three earned) on the season. His three strikeouts were a season low.

In Butler’s final threat of the night in the sixth inning, Hagen worked around a single, a fielding error and a missed third strike. Butler plated the tying run, but Hagen’s ninth strikeout preserved the Crusaders’ 4-1 lead.

“We certainly won’t be surprised by anyone because we’ve played all three other teams here in the region,” Held said. “It’s going to be packed tomorrow night. It’s going to be a crazy atmosphere. We know they’re not going to back down from us, we’re not going to back down from them. It’s going to be another classic regional final here in Southwest Ohio.”

Mason uses a big first inning to get revenge on Elder

Thursday was worth the wait for Mason baseball. Nearly a full year after falling to Elder in the Division I regional semifinals, Mason got revenge with a 9-5 victory over the Panthers in the same round on Thursday.

“It’s about winning the next game,” Mason head coach Curt Bly said. “Winning and moving forward is what it’s all about.”

Mason averaged just 4.33 runs per game heading into a district final, but the Comets broke through the gates offensively against Elder.

Mason batted around the order, sending 12 batters to the plate in a six-run first inning. Catcher Mark Rutherford opened the scoring with an RBI double. Hutch Crociata and Brad Hart each drove in runs with singles, while the patient Comets added three more on bases-loaded walks from Drew Johnson, Casey Doner and Jacob Hanley.

“We had good at-bats. We scored a few balls, drew a few walks, ran the bases well; just had good at-bats and passed it on,” Bly said.

More: “One of the best that’s ever been here.” Mason’s Jacob Hanley manages Comets baseball

Alex Koelling made it 7-0 in the third inning, but scored a batter later on Hanley’s RBI single. Koelling (3-for-4) and Hanley combined for four points.

That was more than enough run support for Hanley, an Indiana commit who entered Thursday at 7-1 with a 2.18 ERA, though it wasn’t without some drama. After two shutout innings, Mason went to the bullpen. Elder immediately found the spark, scoring three runs in the bottom of the third on RBI singles by Eli Roden and Brayden Curlis.

Because he had moved to first base, Hanley was allowed to return to the mound to clean up the mess. Hanley allowed an inherited runner to score on Cooper Schneider’s sacrifice fly, which cut the Comets’ lead to 8-4.

Then Hanley gave up just one earned run the rest of the way for his eighth win, moving Mason closer to its second state Final Four appearance in three seasons.

“Every time we (Mason and Moeller) play against each other, it’s always a great game, always fun and always very intense,” Bly said of Friday’s final against the top-ranked Crusaders. “It’s always a challenge when you come across them. I say it every time we get the opportunity, we’re certainly happy to have it and we’ll go after it tomorrow and see what happens.”

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