LIMA – Michael Bonifay didn’t feel like messing around.
From the mound, the 5-foot-9, 156-pounder worked quick and clean and helped the Lima Locos send Licking County back to Newark with a 5-1 loss to open the best-of-three Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League playoff semifinals Thursday before a packed Simmons Field crowd.
The top-seeded Locos will travel to Licking County for Game 2 at 7:05 p.m. tonight. If Game 3 is needed, it’d be back at Simmons Field at 7:05 p.m. Saturday.
Because the Hamilton Joes knocked off the Xenia Scouts 5-2 on Thursday, if both the Locos and Joes win tonight, Game 1 of the championship series would be at Simmons Field on Saturday.
It’s the fifth straight season the Locos have run into the Settlers in the playoffs and Licking County has won the last three times, including a year ago in the semifinals when the Locos entered as the top seed.
“It was on my mind but it wasn’t on the players’,” Locos coach Chad Ehrnsberger said. “It should be just another game, just another opponent. We’ve got a couple guys back from last year but it’s the playoffs. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you have to play baseball the right way and we did tonight.”
One of the returnees from last year is Bonifay, who wasn’t originally slated to start.
Former Settlers’ hurler Nick Eltzroth (Ohio Northern) was originally supposed to start but called Ehrnsberger on Tuesday and told him his elbow was “wasn’t ready.”
“Hopefully he gets healthy,” Ehrnsberger said. “But we have the utmost confidence in Michael, I had no doubts he was going to come out and throw a great game. He’s a bulldog out there, he relished the opportunity to pitch Game 1.”
And it showed.
Bonifay went seven innings and allowed one run on three hits and no walks while striking out three. He threw just 86 pitches in the two-hour, six-minute game.
“We had a little tidbit with Licking County last year, so that was one thing that really had me dialed in today,” Bonifay said. “I was ready to put it to them. After last year, we owe them.”
Bonifay (3-0 in the regular season) was coming off a game last week in which he pitched seven innings for a victory and gave up no runs on five hits without a walk. On Thursday, he had a pretty simple formula.
“I was able to get ahead with the fastball, the curveball was a pretty good pitch as well,” he said. “The knuckleball was kind of a show-me pitch tonight. When you can use that as a show-me pitch, the fastball at 80 mph can come in looking like 90.”
The offense rapped 10 hits and scored five runs, a tad lower than the Locos’ nearly seven runs per game entering the night.
“We had a different approach tonight,” Ehrnsberger said. “The wind was blowing in, I think it was the first time all year it’s actually blown in. The guys had a different approach, hit line drives, look to go the other way. We have some really good hitters and when they go up there with the right approach, good things are going to happen.
Mitchell Carriger’s third-inning single scored Grant Williams for the first run of the game.
Hunter Williams then knocked in Brett Murray for a run in the fourth. I
n the fifth, Cole Gordon’s sacrifice fly brought in Carriger, who had singled. In the seventh, the Locos tacked on two more runs. Carriger scored on Murray’s single before Will Kilgore crossed home plate on Hunter Williams’ sacrifice to right field.
Carriger finished 3-for-4 with two runs, an RBI and a walk while Kilgore and Murray each doubled.
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