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Cardinals clinch AAC crown and top seed in tournament

May 8, 2019
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

It was a time to celebrate last week for the Canfield baseball team.

Thanks to back-to-back wins over conference rival Austintown Fitch, the Cardinals captured the championship of the All American Conference's Red Tier. The Canfield club nipped Fitch 3-2 on April 29 then came back a couple days later and outlasted the Falcons 4-3 in 8 innings.

The Cardinals only actually needed the first win over Fitch to hoist the Red Tier trophy. Starting pitcher Brent Herrmann scattered nine hits but was stern when he needed to be to pick up the win. The junior hurler went the distance allowing two earned runs and striking out five Falcons.

"Herrmann had a gritty, complete game performance," said Canfield head coach Gary Knittle after the conference clinching triumph.

Senior Jad Jadallah and junior Brayden Beck had identical days at the plate. Both batters belted a home run and a single to aid the Canfield offensive attack. Senior Chance Merlin chipped in with a run scoring double.

Although the Cardinals had the Red Tier wrapped up, there was still a ton to play for when the two cross suburb foes faced off again. It may have taken an extra frame, but a fantastic relief performance by senior Michael Budde helped the Cardinals secure an unbeaten 10-0 conference record. Budde earned the win thanks to his late inning pitching heroics. Senior Ricky Havrilla hammered three hits in four at bats to pace the offense.

Canfield's boys are scheduled to battle at Toronto and Solon this week, but those games will only act as tune ups for next week's Division II state tournament. Thanks in part to their perfect play in the AAC, the Cardinals have earned the number one seed in the Struthers District and a first round bye. They await the winner of the opening round tilt between number eight seed Cardinal Mooney and seventh seeded Howland in the sectional finals. That championship clash will take place on May 15. Knittle did not hide his feelings prior to attending the tournament pairing announcements last Sunday evening. He definitely believed his boys were the ones to beat in Struthers.

"I would be very disappointed if we're not the number one seed and get a home game and first round bye (in the sectionals)," said Knittle a couple hours before the announcement was made.

Of course, Knittle's group is much more familiar with possible adversary Howland than it is with Mooney. The Redbirds ripped the Tigers twice in conference action by a combined score of 18-2. The two Cardinal clubs did not play each other this season, but Mooney has been fairly mediocre throughout the campaign.

The other top four seed in Canfield's bracket is Alliance who the Cards are supposed to still play in a regular season game. That most likely will not happen now that the two teams are potential district semifinal partners. One cannot look at the Struthers District without noticing the possible showdown between Canfield and all-time nemesis Poland in the district championship. Poland is 14-4 this year and has been a force in its first foray in the newly formed Northeast 8 Conference. It's not necessary to rehash how the Bulldogs bolted the AAC before the 2018/2019 athletic season leaving their longstanding rivalry with the kids from Canfield in the dust. Beating up the Bulldogs to bring home a district title would certainly be one glorious way for Cardinal Nation to extract some revenge, however.



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