St. Francis senior Eric Zmuda scores behind Clay catcher Ty McAtee in Saturday's Division I district final. The Knights (27-1) advance to the regional to play Perrysburg at Bowling Green State University on Thursday.
THE BLADE/JEFF SMITH
The season-long plan called for St. Francis de Sales pitcher Max Lyon to be fresh and focused for the district title game on Saturday and the plot played out flawlessly.
Lyon tossed a complete-game, one-hit shutout to lead the Knights to a Division I district championship. The senior threw 79 pitches — 49 for strikes — as he pitched St. Francis to a 4-0 win over Clay.
Lyon had full command of his arsenal, which included a changeup, curveball, and fastball.
“I was really staying on top of all my pitches today,” he said. “I had all three working. My curve kept them off-balance, which allowed me to throw the other two. I just went out and threw like I could. We’ve been talking about a district final effort all year, and it worked out today.”
St. Francis (27-1), ranked No. 4 in the state, scored two runs in the second inning and two more in the fifth in a briskly played contest before an estimated crowd of 750 at Mercy Field for its first district title since 2009.
It was the 25th straight win this season for the Knights.
Clay, the defending district champ, bowed out of the tournament with a 14-13 record.
Lyon (6-0) struck out seven, eeeeeeeeeincluding the final batter to seal it.
“We limited his innings this year, and we are big on being strong in May,” St. Francis coach Tim Gerken said. “You hope that happens, and it did. I’m really happy for him. He was ahead in counts and he was throwing strikes. He was a bulldog. He was fresh. We were hoping this would transpire — that he would be our guy in the district final.”
The Knights advance to face Perrysburg on Thursday in the regional semifinals at Bowling Green State University.
The Knights held a 2-0 lead when they tacked on two insurance runs with Eric Zmuda’s triple and Cody Lewis’ sacrifice fly in the fifth inning. Zmuda’s drive to the gap in left-center field plated Joey White, who had walked, to make it 3-0. Zmuda came home on Lewis’ fly to center for a 4-0 cushion.
Zmuda was the hero of the Knights’ 6-5 win over Whitmer in the district semifinal on Friday when the senior shortstop hit a two-run walk-off double.
“It means the world,” Zmuda said. “From the beginning of the season we knew it was going to be a special season with 13 seniors. All of the other wins are great, but they don’t mean anything if you don’t finish it off in the playoffs.”
St. Francis struck for two runs in the second inning to seize early momentum.
Lyon started with a walk, and Andy Okuley followed with a single. Lyon scored on a fielder’s choice. The Eagles nearly turned a double play, but the throw was late to first. The throw home was also late as Lyon made it 1-0.
“I thought it was huge to get that momentum because we had it then the whole game,” Lyon said. “They were down the whole game.”
Nick Lankard attempted to steal third. The throw to third was wild, and Lankard came home to give the Knights a 2-0 lead.
“We were hoping to get the lead early and it was nice, especially coming off of [Friday’s game],” Gerken said. “I didn’t think this game could have played out any better for us.”
Clay starter Lucas Robson allowed four hits and only one extra-base hit.
Clay’s only hit of the game came in the Eagles’ first at-bat of the game. Leadoff hitter Ryan Fournier singled up the middle. Lyon then struck out five of the next 10 batters he faced.
Matt Zmuda’s, Eric’s twin brother, also singled. The senior brothers will attend Denison University.
“I’m just having fun and staying loose,” Eric Zmuda said. “This is my third time around. I was getting too tense and serious. I just wanted to keep it real relaxed because it’s my last time playing with these guys.”
Gerken went so far as to say Zmuda has taught him a lot this season.
“You can’t imagine the things he says and does for his team during the course of a game,” Gerken said. “He is our leader through and through.”
The Knights will play St. John’s Jesuit in the semifinals of the Three Rivers Athletic Conference tournament on Monday.
“We know the next one will be tough too,” Gerken said. “We are just going to keep playing and hope we can score one more run than them every time we play. These kids just love to play baseball, and they are really good at it.”