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Poland boys get wins to advance to semi-finals

May 16, 2018
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

It hasn't been the greatest of regular seasons for the Poland baseball team this year.

The Bulldogs hovered around the .500 mark all season and finished in the middle of the pack in the All-American Conference's Red Tier. Once the Division II tournament started last week, however, the eighth seeded Bulldogs' season took a turn for the better.

Poland's boys captured a pair of wins in the sectionals to advance to the Struthers District semifinals. That showdown with Niles was scheduled for this past Tuesday at Cene Park. The winner of that battle will meet either Canfield or Cardinal Mooney.

"We seem to be getting into a good rhythm at the right time," said Poland head coach Rich Murray last weekend. "Niles is good with a really good pitcher. It should be an exciting game."

Murray's kids played an extremely exciting game in round one of the tournament. Down 4-2 to Ursuline heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Bulldogs needed a miracle to keep their playoff hopes alive. They got that miracle in the form of junior Cole Kosco who slammed a game-winning, three-run homerun in a season saving 5-4 triumph. Braeden O'Shaughnessy, Zach Yaskulka, Jeremy Castro and M.J. Farmer all had two hits to aid the Bulldogs.

That win in the sectional opener gave the Poland club the momentum it needed to claim the sectional crown the following day at West Branch. O'Shaughnessy, Reed McCreery and Alex Barth all knocked home two runs as the Bulldogs upset the top seeded Warriors 8-5. Senior starting pitcher Matt Sperati didn't have his greatest stuff last Wednesday afternoon, but he kept the West Branch hitters off balance just enough to grind out the win.

"Matt Sperati battled all game pitching versus a really good West Branch team," said Murray. "We played a solid game."

Poland's play wasn't as solid when it lost its final regular season game to Boardman last Friday. The Spartans out-slugged the Bulldogs 15-9 to clinch a share of the Red Tier title. McCreery went 2 for 3 and brought home three runs. O'Shaughnessy was a perfect 4 for 4 with two doubles.

That loss to Boardman was more or less a practice game for Poland in the off days before the districts. The important contest was the one against the Red Dragons. Should Poland continue its unexpected run through Struthers and number two seed Canfield takes care of business against the other Cardinals, then a district championship pitting two of this area's greatest rivals will have been played on May 16. Of course, it was hard to get Coach Murray to acknowledge a potential battle royale with the Redbirds before his team beat Niles.

"We take it one game at a time," said Murray. "We're just happy to be in the position we're in right now."



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