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Published: Saturday, 5/29/2004

Titans Graham zeroes in

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
St. John s senior Connor Graham ran his season record to 9-0. St. John s senior Connor Graham ran his season record to 9-0.
MAXWELL / BLADE Enlarge

SHELBY, Ohio - St. John s Jesuit pulled one step closer to a City League first yesterday as the Titans capitalized on Elyria mistakes and rode the right arm of senior ace Connor Graham to an 8-0 victory in a Division I regional semifinal.

If the eighth-ranked Titans (25-3) can upset fifth-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius (23-6) in today s 1 p.m. regional final, St. John s would become the first CL school to reach the state tournament s final four in football, basketball and baseball in the same school year.

St. Ignatius advanced by an identical 8-0 count over Findlay in yesterday s first semifinal.

St. John s got the only run Graham would need in the second inning when Mike Sofo (3-for-4) and Blake Haudan hit consecutive one-out singles, and Andrew Decker delivered a two-out RBI single to left.

But a huge, seven-run fourth inning in which 11 Titan batters came to the plate gave Graham (9-0) a valuable comfort zone after a relatively shaky start.

That rally was made possible by a defensive collapse by the Pioneer infield, which committed four fielding errors - one by each infielder - plus one key mental miscue.

After Kevin Leininger and Reed Welker each reached on errors off of check-swing grounders to third and second, respectively, the Titans loaded the bases when no one covered first on Sofo s sacrifice which turned into a single.

With Haudan batting, Pioneer starter Griffin Knapp made a pickoff attempt at second trying to get Welker. But shortstop Dustin Taulbee dropped the throw, enabling Leininger to score.

Haudan walked to reload the bases, and Titan catcher Mike Milano came through with a key two-run single to left for a 4-0 lead. Andrew Decker, attempting a sacrifice bunt, reached when first baseman Brandon Frazier dropped Knapp s throw.

“That was a key inning,” Milano said. “You always want to have a big inning in a game like this. I drove in two runs, and the other guys hit a couple runs in. It was a good inning.”

Jay Wheeler capped things with a two-out, two-run double.

“We ve capitalized on that kind of stuff all season long,” Titans coach Ed Mouch said. “When teams have made mistakes, we ve been able to jump on it and make them pay. I thought the kids did a great job swinging the bats at that particular time.”

The rally was plenty for Graham, who struck out 12 batters in his five-hit shutout. After yielding four Pioneer hits in the first three innings when he threw 57 of his 108 total pitches, Graham buckled down and surrendered just a fifth-inning walk and a seventh-inning single thereafter.

“Coach has been saying to me that you just have to be a competitor out there when you don t have your [best] stuff,” Graham said. “You just keep throwing, and have your defense help you. That s what happened today.

“You can really calm down a lot when you get that run support. The flood gates just opened, and that makes it a lot easier on the mound.”

The Titans are likely to start either Leininger or Mickey Cassidy, both senior right-handers, today against St. Ignatius, which defeated St. John s 11-1 back on May 1.

FINDLAY ELIMINATED: Cleveland St. Ignatius star Brian Hoyer did it all in an 8-0 Division I regional semifinal win over Findlay yesterday at Shelby.

Hoyer, recruited to play quarterback for the Michigan State football program, threw a three-hit shutout, striking out 12 batters.

At the plate, his solo home run to left field in the top of the fifth inning broke a scoreless tie. He then smashed a grand slam to center in the sixth to give the Wildcats a 5-0 lead.

Trojan starter Tyler Curlis then yielded a two-run homer to Alex Lambrinides and a solo shot by Greg Feltes in the seventh. Curlis, who allowed 10 hits, struck out nine.

Findlay (21-7) got its only hits on singles from Ray Arreguin and Brian Almond in the fourth, and another from Arreguin in the sixth.

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com or 419-724-6461.

GALION - Port Clinton managed five runs on just three hits, but LaGrange Keystone (22-5) pounded out 10 hits in a 12-5 victory in a Division II regional baseball semifinal.

Joe Higgins took the loss for the Redskins (20-9), giving up seven hits and eight earned runs in 32/3 innings while striking out three and walking five. Joe Timmons, Matt Rhoade and David Kroll each had a hit for Port Clinton. Rhoade scored three times.

But Keystone scored three in the second and fourth innings and put up two apiece in the third, fifth and sixth.

FINDLAY - Nick Boyers homered in the fifth inning to give Archbold a 2-1 lead, but Columbus Academy (18-7) scored three runs in the seventh on a double, two singles and a pair of walks to beat the Blue Streaks 4-2 in a Division III regional semifinal.

Josh Johnson took the loss for Archbold (24-5), yielding five hits and four runs while striking out five and walking five. Eli Wagler hit the first of his two singles in the third and came around to score the first run for the Streaks, who outhit the winners but committed three errors.

ELIDA - Kevin Wammes pitched a three-hit shutout and Mike Lento went 4-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored to lead Fremont St. Joseph to a 3-0 victory over Cardinal Stritch in a Division IV regional semifinal. In the other game, Stryker was blanked by Kalida 4-0.

Ian Tursik took the loss for Stritch (16-10), yielding nine hits and three earned run while striking out one and walking none. Wammes struck out 12 and walked one.

Wammes singled with one out and scored on a hit-and-run double by Cory Swaisgood for the Streaks first run in the fourth. They scored two more in the seventh on singles by Bobby Stainbrook, Lento and Andy Raubenolt and Kyle Szymanowski s sacrifice fly.

Joe Rampe went 2-for-3 with an RBI for Kalida (18-5).

The lone hits for Stryker (21-9) were a leadoff double by Adam Andres in the sixth and Evan Brown s single in the fifth. Parker Myers allowed six hits and four runs - two earned - with six strikeout and no walks.



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