Steal not in Cards for Tigers
By Dan Hiner
It was supposed to be a regular steal attempt with runners on first and third base. But Ian Merkel was thrown out at home in the top of the fourth inning.
If successful, Howland would have tied the game. Instead, the Canfield baseball team beat the Tigers 5-2 in a Division II sectional final Wednesday at Cene Park.
The Cardinals led 2-1 with Josh McCleery on first and Merkel on third. McCleery tried to steal second on left-hander Brent Herrmann, but the Canfield starter stepped off the mound and threw to second baseman Michael Budde.
Merkel hesitated before running for home, and Budde’s throw to catcher Danny Beistel beat him by three steps.
“Michael Budde — you gotta tip your cap — did a fantastic job making sure as the runner’s creeping down the line, know exactly when to change gears and take a look home,” Canfield head coach Gary Knittle said.
Howland head coach Zack Byler was trying to get runners on second and third with one out, but said McCleery took off from first too early.
“Ideally in that situation, [McCleery] just steals and they just give us the bag,” Byler said. “He just left a little bit early.
“I wasn’t necessarily opposed to it. It’s just one of those plays that are tough. Maybe they make a bad throw, we get in, everything looks good.”
Canfield (16-4) scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth to break the game open. Ricky Havrilla hit an RBI single to center field, Dom Pilolli scored on a double steal and Chance Merlin hit a sacrifice fly.
Havrilla finished 2 for 2 with two RBIs and a run scored. Dom Pololli was 1 for 3 with two runs scored. Jad Jaddallah scored on a wild pitch in the first inning to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.
“Early on we were up in the dugout because we were really excited to be here, and then our offense stalled a little bit,” Havrilla said. “But once we got a run up we got our energy back. We went on that and had a really nice inning.”
Herrmann improved his record to 8-0 and recorded his sixth complete game of the season. He allowed two runs — one earned — on four hits and two walks, striking out 10.
“This is what he’s done all year for us,” Knittle said. “His last three starts have been complete games. He had a complete-game win against nationally ranked Walsh Jesuit so he’s been in this position.
“We know what we’re getting out of him. You’re not gonna take the ball out of his hands.”
The Tigers (11-14-1) got on the board after Herrman was called for a balk with Gage Tomko on third. McCleery scored Howland’s other run after a Canfield throwing error in the seventh inning.
Brayden Gebhardt took the loss. Gebhardt allowed three runs — two earned — on one hit and four walks. The Howland freshman struck out two in four-plus innings of work.
“[Gebhardt’s] been effectively wild for us all year,” Byler said. “He had over 50 strikeouts on the season in minimal innings, so he was really good.”
Havrilla got Canield’s first hit on an RBI single in the third. The Cardinals didn’t record their second hit until the bottom of the sixth with Angelo Fronzaglio on the mound.
Despite Gebhardt’s performance, the Tigers committed four errors.
“Walks and errors. We made it a little bit easier for them,” Byler said. “But that’s the pressure of the game too.”
The Cardinals will play Alliance in a district semifinal on Monday. The Aviators beat West Branch 4-0 on Wednesday.
Alliance features sophomore pitcher Gavin Bruni, an Ohio State commit. Bruni allowed two hits and two walks in the Aviators’ win over West Branch.
“We’ve got our work cut out — another lefty,” Knittle said. “We got our work cut out for us, but a win is a win.”
First pitch between Canfield and Alliance is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Cene Park.