The last time St. Francis de Sales and Clay had played a baseball game before meeting in last night's City League playoff semifinals was 13 days ago when Clay hammered the Knights 19-0 to close the league schedule.
Although that outcome was somewhat deceiving - St. Francis played several nonstarters in the May 20 contest - the long layoff apparently was more suitable for the Knights.
They grabbed an early lead and cruised to a 7-2 victory at Skeldon Stadium to earn a spot in tomorrow night's 6:30 CL championship game here. St. Francis (11-10) will face Central Catholic (14-9), which advanced by beating Start 9-3 in last night's second semifinal.
St. Francis touched Clay junior starter Drew Kuns for three runs in the first inning and made them hold up as little went right for the top-seeded defending CL-champion Eagles (17-8), who committed five errors and stranded 10 baserunners.
Leadoff hitter Mike McNamara (2-for-3) sparked the first-inning rally with a double to center, and Lee Lukasik followed with a bunt single. McNamara scored on Alex Radon's single and, after Kyle Wilkes' groundout plated Lukasik, Radon scored on an errant pickoff throw by Eagle catcher Michael Balogh.
"We were hoping we could do that, finally, after a two week layoff," Knights coach Tim Gerken said. "We have kind of gotten on top of some of the better teams all year, and we were fortunate today."
The Knights added a run in the third when Radon scored on a passed ball.
Clay got on the board in the fourth inning on singles from Kuns, Mike Romano and Romstadt.
St. Francis added a run in the sixth on a double by Bobby Rachko (2-for-3) and McNamara's RBI single. Clay reliever Adam O'Shea allowed two unearned runs in the seventh.
"I was able to just throw strikes and they hit the ball right at everybody," said Radon, the winning picther. "That [3-0 lead] was a real big boost because you can just relax and throw strikes. This was a very big team win. We bounced back and played good baseball. We came through on big at-bats."
The Eagles' other run came in the bottom of the seventh on Paul Zalar's double and an RBI single by Kuns (3-for-3).
"Defensively, we gave them some things, and we had opportunities offensively with runners on base early and we couldn't move them," Clay coach Karl Knierim said. "That was it. You've got to take advantage of opportunities. We weren't real sharp today, and St. Francis played a good game."
In the second semifinal, Start suffered a carryover from its 12-0 loss to Cleveland St. Ignatius in Friday's Division I regional tournament final. After allowing 10 runs in the final two innings of that game, the Spartans (24-4) yielded six more to Central in the first inning last night.
That Irish uprising featured five hits off starter Aaron Koonce, including senior Colin Meinzer's two-run homer down the left-field line for a 4-0 lead. That drive was initially called foul by the plate umpire, who was subsequently overruled by the third-base umpire.
Grant Bollin had driven in the first two runs on a single, and Kenny Heban (2-for-3) and Phill Dysard added RBI singles.
Start answered with five hits to cut that lead to 6-3 in the top of the second.
Phil Macias banged a solo homer to right and, after two groundouts, Pierce Baker
tripled, Aaron Newman doubled and Kyle Maran delivered an RBI single. Koonce then singled before Central senior starter Brett Kuebler closed the door. Kuebler retired the last 15 batters he faced.
Central's Jeff Balogh singled with two outs in the fifth scored on Heban's triple for a 7-3 lead.
"We were playing a darn good team, so scoring six runs in the first inning was big," Central coach Jeff Mielcarek said, "although we left something there. I think we could have gotten more, and fortunately that didn't come back to haunt us.
"I'm thrilled, because we hadn't played in 10 days. We did great work [in practice] and it paid off. Any time you can get to the City championship it's a good thing, and we're happy to be a part of it."
Spartan ace Ricardo Lizcano, who threw 111 pitches in Start's 4-3 regional semifinal win over Perrysburg on Thursday, relieved Koonce to start the sixth. Central added two runs, the first on an RBI triple from Cory Lehman (2-for-3).
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