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It was not the ending to the 2014 baseball season that they had hoped for. But winning a conference title by beating their rivals was a fitting finish for the St. John’s Jesuit Titans.
Behind the pitching of senior Jacek Czerwinski, some timely hitting, and a couple successful hunches played by Titans coach Greg Christian, St. John’s closed the season in style.
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The Titans (23-3) took a 5-1 victory over St. Francis de Sales Tuesday night in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship game at Mercy Field.
“This is a fantastic way to end it,” Czerwinski said. “A win over St. Francis, our archrivals, feels great. For this being the last game our seniors will be putting on a Titans jersey, it feels amazing.
“I struggled a little bit in the sixth, and I couldn’t have done it without my defense.”
The Titans — ranked 10th among Ohio’s Division I teams, and the No. 1 seed in the district — exited the tournament with a 2-1 upset loss to Southview in the district semifinals last Thursday.
“I’d trade all this in to be playing Thursday [in regional semifinals],” Christian said, “but this does take some of the sting out of it, and it showed our senior leadership the way we came back and battled after that loss.
“We knew it was going to be tough to beat St. Francis three times in one year, but I can’t say enough about the seniors.”
St. John’s had beaten the Knights 10-3 and 12-3 in earlier TRAC play.
Czerwinski (5-0), a senior right-hander, allowed just four hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings before exiting when Christian played his second hunch.
He inserted another senior right-hander, Jeremy O’Brien, who inherited a bases-loaded situation, two outs, and the potential tying run at the plate in Knight catcher John Lawhead.
Lawhead worked the count to 3-2 before O’Brien got him on strikes to end the tension, and the sixth inning.
Christian’s first hunch came in the bottom of the fifth inning and his team ahead 3-0.
With two outs and two runners aboard, St. John’s No. 3 hitter, catcher Mike Barrett was due up.
But instead of Barrett, the Titans’ top hitter (.492) this season, pinch-hitter Luke Brahier stepped to the plate. Brahier made good by lining an RBI single through the right side to plate John Freisner.
Pete Burkett then singled to score Devon Garcia to make it 5-0.
St. Francis (19-8) finally got to Czerwinski after two were out in the sixth.
John Williams walked, Jay Denman singled to right, and Johnson singled off the glove of diving third baseman Chandler Dippman to score Williams. After Nick Lankard walked to load the bases, Christian called on O’Brien, who halted the budding rally.
“Czerwinski was good in the middle of the diamond and we kind of lost our discipline at the plate,” St. Francis coach Tim Gerken said. “If we get a hit there in the sixth, maybe ... but it was a good high school baseball game. All the little things that have turned the game either way went their way.”
Titans senior ace Nolan Silberhorn worked a 1-2-3 seventh to close out St. John’s second TRAC championship in three seasons.
“Jeremy O’Brien gets that big strikeout with the bases loaded — that’s a game changer,” Christian said. “Then Noland Silberhorn comes in and shuts the door. We had some clutch hits by Pete Burkett and Luke Brahier. And, Jacek was phenomenal.”
St. John’s had scored first on a clutch two-out, two-run single through the middle by Freisner (2-for-2). That hit scored Sam McClurg and T.J. Lake, whose back-to-back one-out singles chased Knights starting pitcher Joey DiPierro.
The Titans’ fifth inning included four hits off of the Knights’ third pitcher, Casey Johnson.
Dippman sparked that rally with a triple to the gap in right-center. After Johnson hit Freisner with a pitch, his wild pitch allowed Dippman to score and Freisner to reach second.