By Greg gulas
For four innings Thursday at Cene Park, the Canfield Cardinals looked every bit like the undefeated Ursuline Fighting Irish.
The fifth inning, however, was a totally different story.
Sam Donko threw a complete-game, seven-hitter, striking out 10 and Harry Finelli had a two-run double during Ursuline’s six-run, fifth-inning uprising to lead the Fighting Irish to an 8-4 victory over the Cardinals.
The win was the 15th straight for Ursuline to start the season, adding to the best start ever during Sean Durkin’s coaching tenure.
“I don’t care what Canfield’s record is — they are a very dangerous team and they proved that time and again today,” Durkin said. “We’ve faced adversity several times during our streak and have been able to battle back. That’s what builds character in a team.
“It took Sam a couple of innings in order to get into a groove, but once he found that groove he was able to settle down and get comfortable. Harry, on the other hand battled with two strikes and two outs, fought off a few balls and then drove the ball that was out and over the plate. He really showed why he’s an excellent two-strike batter.”
After a scoreless first inning, Canfield’s Derek Turocy led off the second frame with a triple, later scoring on Jimmy Leone’s opposite-field single as the Cardinals (8-10) forged the early run advantage.
The Fighting Irish tied the score in the third inning when Steve Balas’ one-out single plated Ryan Strollo for their first run of the game.
Donko then struck out the side in the fifth inning, setting up Ursuline’s six-run rally in the bottom half of the inning.
With one out, seven of the next eight Ursuline batters reached safely, highlighted by Finelli’s double and two of four errors that the Cardinals committed in the game as they built a 7-1 lead.
“The thing that we have going for us right now is great team chemistry,” Finelli said. “We realize that we won’t have everything go our way all of the time, so we just keep fighting like we did today.
“We were three outs away from the state tournament last year and from day one our goal has been to get to the state and win it all.”
In the sixth inning, Canfield’s Edmond Pilolli and Turocy scored on Alec Hammond’s single to cut the Ursuline lead to 8-3.
Dylan Williams scored the Cardinals’ final run on an error in the seventh, but that was the only run they could manage despite the fact that three of their first four batters reached base safely.
“The last couple of times out I struggled in the early innings, but our defense was able to make big plays and our offense kept us going,” Donko said. “If you had told me at the beginning of the season that we would be undefeated after our first 15 games, I probably would have believed it because this team has great chemistry and just keeps finding a way to win.”
The loss snapped the Cardinals’ four-game winning streak and prevented them from reaching the .500 mark after a 2-8 start to the season.
“Our record might not indicate it, but we are a pretty good team,” Canfield coach Matt Koenig said. “You saw two really good high school pitchers today in Tony Velasquez and Sam Donko. Through four innings it was 1-1, so what you witnessed was a great pitching duel. Also, I was really pleased with our offensive effort because we hit the ball hard.”
Donko improved to 6-0 with the win. Velasquez, who allowed just two hits through the first four innings, struck out three and walked one.