St. Francis players celebrate winning the Division I District Final 4-0 over Clay.
Fresh off its Division I district championship from Saturday, the St. Francis de Sales baseball team had just enough left in the tank to eke out a win over rival St. John’s Jesuit in Monday’s Three Rivers Athletic Conference playoff semifinal at Mercy Field.
The fourth-ranked Knights (28-1) got just two hits off of St. John’s starter Collin Korte, but made them both count in taking a 2-1 win, which moved them into today’s 7 p.m. TRAC championship game against host Central Catholic.
The Irish (15-13), who advanced by beating Fremont Ross 3-1 in Monday’s second semifinal, dropped both regular-season conference games against the Knights.
St. Francis is attempting to juggle two goals this week — securing the conference title before making a run at a regional crown.
“We’re going to use everyone,” said Knights coach Tim Gerken of his team’s pitching in pursuit of regional and TRAC titles. “That’s what we’ve done all year, and we think we have enough bodies that we can do both.
“We sincerely want to do both. We’ll see what happens.”
The Knights have a showdown for Northwest Ohio supremacy against fifth-ranked Northern Lakes League champion Perrysburg (26-3) in a D-I regional semifinal Thursday at 5 p.m. at Bowling Green’s Stellar Field.
After three scoreless innings in Monday morning’s semifinal, St. Francis broke through for its first hit, and the game’s first run, in the fourth.
Cody Lewis drew a leadoff walk, advanced on a balk by Korte, and scored on a one-out single to left by Miccoy Drzewiecki for a 1-0 lead.
The Titans — who had stranded Devon Garcia in the third after his one-out triple, and left two runners aboard in the fourth — tied the game in the fifth.
Alex Gum opened the inning with a bunt single, and Garcia followed with a single to center. Following T.J. Lake’s successful sacrifice bunt, Knights pitcher Matt Zmuda walked Jimmy Scott intentionally to load the bases.
Connor Scott then brought Gum home on a sacrifice fly to center, but St. Francis avoided further damage when Zmuda picked Garcia off of second base to end the inning.
St. Francis plated the winning run in the bottom of the fifth.
Nick Lankard led off with a walk and, after being caught in a rundown, reached second safely on an errant throw from Titans first baseman Nolan Silberhorn.
Lankard then came home on Michael Wagner’s double.
“Korte was good today, and maybe we had a little emotional fatigue [from beating Clay in Saturday’s district final],” Gerken said, “but I don’t think so. I just think he was good.
“You play enough high school games and you know there’s a 10-9 game in there, and a 1-0 or a 2-1. They’re all in there, and that was just a good game today.”
Matt Zmuda, the fourth of St. Francis’ five pitchers in the game, earned the victory, and Wagner worked the final inning to pick up a save.
“We want to keep doing what we’ve been doing, and St. John’s is a big rival, so naturally we’re all hyped up for the game,” Wagner said. “But, we’ve got to keep our heads level and know that it’s just another game, and play the way we’ve been playing.
“No two baseball games are the same. Some games you have 10 hits and some you have two. This game we had two, and that did it. On my hit, I was waiting for the fastball and [Korte] threw me one right where I wanted it.”
Korte struck out seven and walked three in limiting St. Francis to two hits.
“Collin Korte did a great job,” Titans coach Greg Christian said. “They only had two hits, and we had four. But they had timely hits.
“They put theirs together when they needed to, and they executed the small-ball stuff again, which has cost us games all year.”
In the second semifinal, Central spotted Fremont Ross (14-14) a 1-0 lead before utilizing some small ball, and some miscues by the Little Giants, to rally ahead.
The rest was up to junior pitcher Chad Kuebler, who tossed a complete-game three-hitter, striking out six Ross batters.
“Chad was competitive,” Irish coach Jeff Mielcarek said of Kuebler’s mound effort. “That’s just the way he’s wired, so it didn’t surprise me that he would stick with it. He made pitches when he had to.
“It was a microcosm of our season. We had just enough offense, between bunting and running a little bit, and Derich Weiland had a very nice game offensively.”
The Little Giants scored their only run in the bottom of the first inning when Ross pitcher Brandon Weiker doubled to center field with one out, and later scored on a one-out single to right by Kole Amor.
Blanked by Weiker through three innings, the Irish took the lead 2-1 in the fourth after two were out.
Kuebler blooped a single to left, advanced to second and third on wild pitches, and then scored on a passed ball by catcher Amor.
Kam Weber followed with a walk, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and trotted home when Amor’s throw to third on a pitch that sailed past third baseman Elijah Hampton.
Central added an insurance run in the fifth when Weiland (3-for-4) reached on a Hampton error, stole second, and scored after a bunt by teammate Ryan O’Hearn.
Weiker fielded the ball and threw to first to retire O’Hearn, and Weiland dashed home to just beat the relay from first baseman Jalen Slick, giving the Irish a 3-1 lead.
“We battled as a team the whole game like we have all year, and we came out on top,” Weiland said. “It was a nice win.
“We’re excited [to play St. Francis]. They beat us the first two times, but we’re hungry and ready to get back at it. We’ve got to play well all around. Playing good defense, and keep pitching like we have been. When we put the ball in play and get on base, we have to make the most of it.”
“Like the old proverbial saying, they made one more play than us,” Ross coach Mark King said. “Weiker’s not going to throw it by a lot of kids, but he mixes his speeds well. He’s had a great year on the hill in the TRAC against some big teams.
“He gave us every opportunity to win today. But that’s been the story of our year. We’ve played with everybody, but there’s been one inning where we’ve had a miscue here or there and it’s cost us.”
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