If that old axiom is indeed true, then the trophy case at Canfield High School may need to clear some space. The top-seeded Cardinals started their quest for a Division II state title by knocking off Lakeview, 6-1 at home in the first round of the tourney on May 11. That win sends the Cardinals to a district semifinal showdown with arch rival Poland on May 17. According to Canfield head coach Matt Koenig, there would be no way his kids would be playing Poland this week without some solid starting pitching.
"It was a strong outing by (Alec) Buchenic," stated Koenig. "He gave up just one run in five plus innings. He made some great pitches."
Besides Buchenic, Canfield got terrific throwing from Justin Summer and Tylor Rhoads. Summer relieved Buchenic in the fifth with runners on base and escaped a hairy situation then Rhoads ran through the Bulldogs with a simple seventh inning.
"(Summer) came in in a tight situation," Koenig said admiringly. "(Lakeview) had runners on first and third and no outs and he got a strikeout and a double play. That was a big part of the game."
Another very large part to Canfield's game lately has been outstanding defense and that phase was in full throttle in the playoff opener. Canfield controlled the contest by turning a trio of double plays against Lakeview last Friday, May 11.
"Our defense played well," Koenig said sounding satisfied. "Our pitchers threw a lot of ground balls and we fielded them and turned three double plays. If our pitching and defense continues like this we may be hard to beat."
Of course, a team also needs to hit the baseball a little too in order to win a ballgame and Canfield did that well enough in the sectional. Shortstop Joe Tuchek was tremendous in the field assisting in a lot of those aforementioned twin killings and at the plate he drove in two runs and scored once. Tom Ciccolelli also had a huge RBI giving Canfield a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning. Michael Ross capped a three-run fifth with an RBI on a bunt.
It was important that once the Cardinals captured the lead they didn't relinquish it. In past conversations with coach Koenig, he was upset with the fact that his team had been doing that occasionally and he made it their goal to quit coughing up those advantages.
"We have been focusing on not giving up leads," said Koenig. "We made it a point of emphasis to learn from our mistakes. So far the kids have bought into it."
One of the leads the Cardinals almost allowed slip away this year was against Poland in mid-April. Fortunately for Koenig's club, they held on to win that game 10-9 as well as beating the Bulldogs 11-0 the next time they played. As if Poland really needed it, those two setbacks should amp up their motivation when the two rival schools meet at Cene Park on Thursday.
"We have to be ready to play," warned Koenig. "Whoever you play you try and take the same approach. You have to come to play like you have a knot in your stomach."
One thing Koenig's kids will not have before playing Poland on Thursday is lethargy. The Cards beat Howland a day after their tournament win and were to battle Boardman on Tuesday. The Howland game was to tidy things up in the All American Red Tier and the showdown with the Spartans was to keep spry against live pitching as the meaty part of the season approaches.
"The kids understand being the best team in April isn't important," explained Koenig. "You want to be clicking on all cylinders in mid-May."