TRAVERSE CITY — A warm-up curveball prior to the game was about the only thing Ethan Hills missed with.
Just ask Boyne City catcher Nick Aown, who sported a split lip the rest of the contest.
From there on, Hills and Traverse City St. Francis' Kolin Endres both dominated from the mound as Hills eventually emerged victorious 1-0 in Wednesday's Division 3 baseball regional semifinal at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Middle School.
Boyne City senior shortstop Corben Wilhelm, who drove in the game's only run with a fifth-inning single to center field, said the win's importance couldn't be put into words.
"You don't even understand," Wilhelm said. "I don't even have an answer for that. That's my best answer."
No. 14-ranked St. Francis had won seven straight against the Ramblers, including a 2017 regional semifinal on Boyne's home field. May 9, 2016, was the last Rambler win, coming 5-4 in the second game of a regular-season doubleheader.
Even Hills admitted the Ramblers have had a bit of a "little brother" relationship going with the Gladiators.
Wilhelm, who didn't even play football, wasn't sure which win was bigger — Wednesday's, or the Ramblers' last-second football miracle against the Glads in 2017.
"After taking Traverse City into extra innings in the regular season, everybody knew we could play with them," Hills said. "Traverse City is always a force to be reckoned with in any sport, but Boyne City has always competed harder than anyone against them."
Boyne City (23-3) moves on to play No. 13 Gladstone, which beat Negaunee 6-0 in the other regional semi. The Ramblers and Braves meet at 10 a.m. Saturday in Clare. Evart and Beaverton meet in the other regional game at that site, with the super regional contest set for 3 p.m.
St. Francis (28-7-1) won both regular season meetings this year, 5-4 and a 2-1 decision shortened by darkness. The Gladiators won both 2018 matchups (7-0 and 7-0) and all three in 2017 (12-0, 4-3 and then 8-0 in regionals) as St. Francis ran the Lake Michigan Conference table each of the last three seasons.
The Ramblers had only four hits all game off Endres, but the strung three together in the fifth.
"We were getting a few here and there and I knew it was a matter of time," first-year Boyne City head coach Jason Terryberry said. "St. Francis is a great ball club. We were able to scratch a run across and Ethan did the rest."
Carter Binkley singled to center field, Stephen Orban lined one up the third-base line and Wilhelm delivered a one-out single to center for the game's only run.
"Normally, I don't swing at first-pitch curves," Wilhelm said. "But I felt good about this one."
"Corbin's hit was clutch," said Hills, a Saginaw Valley State University commit. "You need a guy like that at the plate in moments like that."
Hills tossed a three-hitter, with Nathan Schmuckal, Aidan Schmuckal and Endres each delivering one hit. He struck out nine, walked only one and cruised through the game in 87 pitches, which still makes him ineligible to pitch Saturday.
"He's always going to throw a good game," Wilhelm said of Hills after getting only two chances at shortstop. "I always have a lot of confidence going into a game he's starting. It sometimes get a little boring, but I love the guy."
Endres was Hills' equal, striking out 11 and walking only two in seven innings. Alex McGeorge's two-out single to right in the second was Boyne's only hit outside of the fifth inning.
The game wasn't without a little controversy, either.
Danny Passinault led off the sixth with Hills' only walk of the day and was bunted to second by Artie Dutmers. Keaton Peck hit a grounder to shortstop, and Wilhelm and Passinault collided in the basepath. The referees ruled Passinault out for interference, whereas St. Francis coach Tom Passinault wanted a call for interfering with the runner, which would have allowed the Glads to score a run and tie the game.
A St. Francis spectator was asked to leave during the seventh inning, following a warning from referees in the first frame for accusing Boyne City assistant coach Ryan Brubaker of stealing signs.
"I'm just enjoying the moment," Terryberry said. "I couldn't be more proud of the kids and I'm lucky to be part of it."
Wednesday's contest was one of the first in the state to finish, a combination of an early 3 p.m. start time and both pitchers not allowing much to get going.
"We knew going in, two very good pitchers — both all-state caliber," Tom Passinault said. "We knew runs would be at a premium."
St. Francis' senior class graduates after putting up 122 victories the last four seasons, including a run to the 2017 state championship game.
"We've had a whole lot of good memories with this class," Tom Passinault said. "There's no shame in losing when you battle."