In a preseason poll of Three Rivers Athletic Conference baseball coaches, St. Francis de Sales was picked to finish fifth among the conference’s eight teams.
But, 23 games into the season, the senior-laden Knights have not only emerged as the TRAC’s top team, but also as one of the area’s best clubs along with fourth-ranked Perrysburg and Anthony Wayne of the Northern Lakes League.
With its 7-1 road victory Friday night at Central Catholic’s Mercy Field, St. Francis moved to 22-1 overall and clinched the top seed for the TRAC playoffs at 9-0 in conference play.
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St. Francis banged out 12 hits, committed no errors, and rode the arms of pitchers Kevin Greenoe, Kenzie Mayo, and Miccoy Drzewiecki to their second TRAC win against Central.
“I was really pleased,” Knights coach Tim Gerken said of his team’s dominant effort. “We’re playing really well, and we’re getting it from so many places. We don’t really care right now where we get it from.”
The Knights, who were ranked No. 6 in the latest Division I state coaches poll, close their TRAC schedule at rival St. John’s Jesuit on Monday.
They then open D-I tourney play on Tuesday in a sectional final against today’s Northview-Rogers winner, and will face last-place Lima Senior in the conference quarterfinals at St. Francis on May 21.
Gerken said the TRAC poll was a motivator in the preseason, but that specific inspiration is behind them.
“I let them know,” Gerken said, “but athletes are athletes. They’ll motivate themselves. It’s just nice to know that you won the regular-season [standings] in a really good league.”
The Knights opened the scoring in the second inning when Max Lyon (3-for-3) ripped a one-out single through the box, and Nick Lankard and Michael Wagner delivered two-out doubles off Irish starter Chad Kuebler.
Lankard’s drive to left sent Lyon to third, and Wagner’s well-placed pop fly landed safely off the glove of diving Central right fielder Colin Kaucher to plate both runners.
“I’ve been on a little bit of a hot streak lately, and have just got things going,” Lyon said. “That’s the way the whole season’s been going for our team. We’ve been getting some good breaks, and we got a couple more in this game.
“At first we had a bit of a grudge about that [preseason rating], but we just had to come out and prove something.”
The Knights added a run in the third.
Eric Zmuda (3-for-4) led off with a triple to right-center, but was still at third after Kuebler got Cody Lewis on a come-backer, and Matt Zmuda on a popout to shallow center.
But, after Drzewiecki walked, Lyon beat out a grounder to short for an RBI single.
“We’re best friends, on and off the field,” Eric Zmuda said of the team’s chemistry, “and that makes it easier to win. We’re building on our past experiences and trying to be mature.
“We know that, just because something bad happened yesterday [making an error or not hitting], it doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen today. We’re flushing the bad at-bats, and pushing through the good ones.”
Central (9-11, 4-5) got on the board in the third when Jake Rudnicki led off with a single, was bunted to second by Kam Weber, moved to third on Derich Weiland’s single, and scored on Kuebler’s groundout.
“Chad Kuebler did a nice job battling and competing,” Irish coach Jeff Mielcarek said. “But they’re very good. They have a good approach at the plate, and they swing it well. There’s a reason they’ve won over 20 games, and we saw it today.”
The St. Francis trio of pitchers combined to allow just three hits, none after the third inning. Mayo, who relieved starter Greenoe in the third inning, was credited with the win.
The Knights capped their scoring in the seventh inning with three runs off Irish reliever Rudnicki.