The events of this past week have greatly changed that belief.
Not only did the Cardinals win four games in a row, but they also won the district tournament championship and the All American Red Tier championship in two straight days. The 16-8 Cardinals will now take on Mentor Lake Catholic in the sectionals at 5 p.m. today in Hudson.
“What an exciting few days for us,” said an exuberant Canfield head coach Matt Koenig on Monday.
After hammering Hubbard 12-2 to get the win streak started on May 12, the Cardinals came back to nail Niles 6-3 in the districts. The number one seeded Canfield kids scored three runs in the first inning against the Red Dragons when Michael Wittman had an RBI single and Josh Midgely mashed a two-run hit. After Niles tied the game in the fourth inning, Canfield came back in the home half of that frame to score three more runs. Tim Cheslik started the fourth with an infield single. He then stole second and advanced to third base on a Niles error. Anthony Ross singled Cheslik home then Joe Tuchek took it further with a two-run single.
Although it looked as if that three-run uprising would send the Cardinals soaring into the district finals, Niles still had some other ideas. The Red Dragons would get two runners on base in the top of the seventh and had the tying run at the plate when Canfield’s Brad Smith slithered out of the jam to earn the victory.
Smith also started and won the game against Hubbard allowing just three hits. He got relief help from Tony Mehle who pitched the seventh inning. Wittman and Smith were the hitting stars with each Cardinal clubbing a two-run homerun.
Wittman would play an even larger role in Canfield’s 5-4 district title winning game versus Ravenna on May 20. He would score the go-ahead and subsequent game-winning run in the sixth inning when Ross singled off the Ravenna pitcher’s body. Ross would also have another hit and a RBI in the game. Ben Angelo also had an RBI double. Jared Bettura pitched five innings, retiring 12 in a row at one point before leaving the game with two on in the sixth. Tyler Rhoads retired Ravenna in the sixth then clinched the district title when he struck out the side in the seventh.
With one championship clinched, the Cardinals went about the business of clinching another one last Saturday at Eastwood Field against Howland. The Cardinals and Tigers were tied at three after six innings, but Canfield exploded for four runs in the top of the seventh to reel in the Red Tier trophy. Cheslik and Midgely each doubled during the four run uprising to help Canfield’s cause. Capturing both crowns on consecutive days capped an exhausting stretch for the Cards.
“We did a phenomenal job with two emotional games in a row,” said Koenig. “It is so difficult to play those games on back to back days, but we got the job done. I’m proud of these kids.”
Koenig will be even prouder if his Redbirds can upend 23-5 Mentor Lake Catholic on Thursday. The Cougars are traditionally a top shelf team in Ohio and have won games this season thanks to their hitting.
“(Mentor Lake Catholic) swing the bats well,” Koenig mentioned. “They are a good team and have played really good competition all year. We will have our hands full.”
Of course, Canfield has also battled big time teams all year both locally and in Myrtle Beach so Koenig feels his boys are ready to advance even further.
“That’s why we play all these tough games every year,” the coach explained. “We should be ready (for the rest of the tournament).”
Cardinal pitcher Jared Bettura talks strategy with coach Matt Koenig prior to the start of the district championship game over the weekend.