By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
STRUTHERS -- Poland High baseball coach Steve Rohan deemed the Division II district championship game fitting.
Poland and Struthers, two teams who tied for the Metro Athletic Conference title, will play today at Cene Park for a regional berth.
The mainstay for the last three years -- Canfield -- is not present. Poland knocked out the three-time district champion Thursday with a 4-0 victory.
Looking ahead: "They're scrappy and our rival," said Rohan of Struthers, which advanced by defeating Niles 3-0 in the other semifinal.
Not only did the Cardinals' season end -- so did the tenure of their coach, Lee Frey, who will become the school's athletic director after spending nearly 20 years in the baseball program.
"That part of my life is over," said Frey, who will succeed Dick Weiss as AD. "Am I going to miss it? Absolutely. Do I have a lot of great memories? Absolutely.
"I have things that will stay with me that are much bigger than wins and losses."
Rohan told his team to expect a district meeting with Canfield (17-10).
"If we were going to be able to win the district, I wouldn't want to win it unless we could play that team," Rohan said. "The tournament should have to go through them."
Winning factors: The Bulldogs (16-7) advanced with senior pitcher Jeff Nastase's complete-game five-hitter, an opportune offense and the defense of sophomore shortstop Jon Habuda, who capped the game by starting a 6-4-3 double play.
"We know we can win. We go in confident every game," said senior left-fielder Ted Russell, who singled three times.
Poland broke a scoreless game in the fifth inning with senior Cody Holecko's sacrifice fly and padded that lead with a three-run sixth.
Junior center-fielder Jim Mitolo and Nastase had RBI singles and Habuda added a sacrifice fly for the 4-0 lead.
"I give Poland credit; it's hard to beat a team three times," said Frey, whose Cardinals dropped two regular season meetings with Poland. "They had all the pressure on them and they withstood the pressure."
The 4-0 lead was all Nastase (6-1) needed. He threw just 83 pitches, striking out three and walking two.
"I know there's a lot of good pitchers in the area," Rohan said. "But I wouldn't want anyone other than Jeff Nastase."
Getting defensive: With his play at shortstop, Habuda helped preserve Poland's shutout.
In the sixth inning, he made a diving catch for one out and then made a long throw for another out to end the inning.
In the seventh, with Canfield runners at the corners, he started the game-ending double play.
"In order to win games that we're playing in now, you have to make the plays you're supposed to make and you've got to make one that no one thinks you can make," Rohan said.
"I think Jon Habuda made a couple that no one thought he could make."