Threes were wild in Wednesday night’s Division I district baseball semifinals at Mercy Field, as three-time defending Three Rivers Athletic Conference champion St. Francis beat TRAC foe Clay for the third time this season, 7-0.
The Knights were paced by the three-hit pitching of junior left-hander Noah Johnson, who was 3-for-3 at the plate.
St. Francis (17-8) will face another TRAC foe — archrival St. John’s Jesuit — in Friday’s 5 p.m. district final here.
McCoy Butler of St. John's threw a three-hitter as the Titans advanced to the district final on Wednesday.
The Titans (17-6) advanced by topping Southview 3-2 in Wednesday’s second semifinal at Mercy Field, with McCoy Butler pitching a complete-game three-hitter, and Alex Foulks getting three hits to lead the Titans’ offense.
The first semifinal was scoreless until the bottom of the fourth inning, when the Knights broke things open with a six-run rally that included five hits and two errors by the Eagles (9-11).
“Coach [Tim Gerken] always preaches ‘aggressive intelligence,’ and getting stronger as you go,” Johnson said. “There were no runs on the board for Clay, so it was a really strong day. We just try to play our hardest every time we step on the field.”
Johnson’s hitting was a bonus.
“We haven’t been letting him hit and pitch [in the same game], and we toyed with our lineup,” Gerken said of Johnson’s two-way production. “We just decided today that our best lineup has him in the No. 8 hole.”
VIDEO: St. Francis 7, Clay 0
Tim Organ, Jr., started the uprising, leading off with a single. Braden Durham was hit by a pitch from Clay starter Devin Lunsford, and Nate Sifuentes drove home both runners with a double to left.
Justin Schnebelen reached on a one-out throwing error that scored Sifuentes, and consecutive singles from Cole Grisier, Sam Kosza, and Johnson made it 4-0.
The final two runs of the rally scored when Organ reached on the Eagles’ second error of the inning. Johnson’s single in the sixth inning scored the Knights’ seventh run.
Johnson started out a bit wild in the first inning. Nick Walter singled with one out and advanced to third on two wild pitches from the slender 6-foot-5 lefty, who then walked Palmer Yenrick.
St. Francis got out of the jam when Walter was caught in a rundown on a failed squeeze-bunt play, and Johnson retired Grant Spears on a flyout.
“He gets all geeked up,” Gerken said of Johnson. “He has the personality of a lefty, and he’s got a lot of body there. Every once in a while he gets a little out of sync, and I think the unsuccessful squeeze kind of settled him, and settled us.
“He was pretty good after that. He got ahead of them and started putting them away. I’m happy this group gets to play for a district title.”
Johnson, who struck out nine, found a groove, and yielded just two more singles in his complete-game shutout.
“I started off rough and I was flying open [on delivery],” Johnson said. “I came into the dugout and talked to our pitching coach [John Locascio], and he told me to drive toward the plate and pull down on the curveball.
“I just threw fastball in, fastball in. I just try to stay there, keep my momentum going, and keep my pace.”
In the second semifinal, Butler pushed his record to 6-1 with seven strikeouts in what St. John’s coach Craig Meinzer felt was the right-hander’s best mound effort of the year.
But it took a wild play to finish the game with Southview (13-12) bidding to tie it.
Butler walked Kurt Hurley (2-for-2, triple) to open the top of the seventh, struck out the Cougars’ Dom Castaldi, then retired Ryan Kelly on a groundout that sent Hurley to second.
After a wild pitch moved Hurley to third, another low pitch eluded Titans catcher Brandon Horman. Hurley attempted to score, but Horman’s throw to Butler covering the plate was in time to tag the Southview player and end the game.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting the game to end that way, but Brandon got me the ball in time and we tagged him out and got the win,” Butler said. “It was my best game of the year.
“Usually, I show up in big games, which I guess is the bright side of it. Southview was a pretty good team, and their first five or six batters were definitely good and ready to swing. I had to be ready to shut them down, put it where they couldn’t hit it, and get the job done.”
St. John’s struck first in the bottom of the first inning, when Foulks (3-for-4, double) led off with a single, then scored on Zak Businger’s double that one-hopped the left-field fence.
VIDEO: St. John’s 3, Southview 2
Southview answered with two runs in the top of the second. C.J. Leonard led off with a single to left and scored on Hurley’s triple to the left-field corner. Hurley later scored when a third-strike wild pitch by Butler skipped past Horman.
The Titans tied the game 2-2 in the third when Foulks doubled leading off, advanced on a flyout, and later scored on Tyler Perino’s two-out single.
St. John’s then went up 3-2 in the fifth as, once more, Foulks (3-for-3) had an impact.
After Zach Meeker drew a leadoff walk from Cougars starter Logan Danzeisen, Foulks followed with a single to right to put Meeker in scoring position. After an infield popout, Meeker scored on Horman’s single to center.
“McCoy did a really nice job today pitching, probably his best performance all year,” Meinzer said. “He kept us in the game, made quality pitches, and he was very efficient.
“We switched the lineup today and moved everybody up one spot, and it worked out with Foulks having a really good day. We’re [in the district final], and now it’s up to the kids to see what they can do. We’ll see what happens.”
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.