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Great pitching pushes Canfield to sectional championship

May 22, 2019
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

Canfield's baseball team had already easily handled Howland in two previous regular season conference games this season.

That's why the Cardinals' home showdown with the Tigers in the Division II Struthers District sectional finals was predicted to be another romp for the hosts. It didn't quite follow the planned script, but Canfield's boys did indeed get the better of Howland for the third time. A three-run bottom of the third broke a 2-2 tie and propelled the Cardinals to a 5-2 sectional championship victory. The top seeded Cardinals now advance to the district round where they'll meet fourth seeded Alliance in the semifinals. A pair of victories at Struthers' Cene Park will move Canfield into the state regional round.

"We set out this season with two goals as a team," explained Canfield head coach Gary Knittle. "One was to win our first conference championship outright since 2011, two was to win a district title and give us a chance to get back to regionals again. We met our first goal going undefeated in the conference and now we are two wins away from reaching our second goal."

Although the Cardinals have toppled the Tigers by a combined score of 23-4 this year, last Wednesday's win didn't come without some difficulty. Senior Jad Jaddallah scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the first to stake the home team to an early 1-0 lead. The score would be 2-1 in favor of Canfield as the game hit the top of the fourth. That's when Howland had its best chance all season to clip the Cardinals. With runners on first and third, the Tigers attempted to steal second base. Crafty Canfield left-handed starting pitcher Brent Herrmann noticed this steal attempt and stepped off the mound. He pivoted and threw the ball to second baseman Michael Budde. At that time, the Tiger runner on third started creeping towards home plate. Budde smartly ignored the runner coming towards him and gunned the ball to catcher Danny Beistel. When the potential Howland thief arrived at the dish, Beistel was waiting for him ball in mitt. Instead of tying the game, the Tigers' game-tying rally was thwarted.

"Michael Budde did a fantastic job changing gears and taking a look home," said Knittle.

Knittle's kids then put the game away an inning later. Senior Ricky Havrilla had an RBI single in the three-run fifth. Unlike the Tigers' runner previously, Canfield's senior Dom Pilolli successfully stole home. Then senior Chance Merlin brought in a run with a sacrifice fly. Overall, Havrilla would go 2 for 2 with two RBI's. The speedy Pilolli would score twice.

Herrmann was heroic when he instigated the caught stealing in the fourth and was rewarded with the pitching win. He worked his sixth complete game this year giving up just one earned run on four hits. He also struck out 10 Tigers. The job the junior did in the sectional title game is a continuation of how sharp he's been the past couple of weeks.

"(Herrmann's) last three starts have been complete games," explained Knittle. "He's done it all year for us. He should be an all-state selection with the season he's having (48 innings pitched, 7-0 record and 1.37 ERA). He has six complete games including the win against Walsh (Jesuit)."

Herrmann isn't the only Canfield hurler who's handling his business on the hill either. Junior pitcher Brayden Beck is 3-0 and hadn't allowed an earned run before hurting himself a month ago.

"We shut him down for a month to allow him to get healthy and he is now back for us," Knittle said.

Budde has not only played beautifully at second base, but also on the mound. He is 4-0 with a 0.96 ERA in 23 innings. Havrilla's ERA is even shinier at 0.46 in 18 innings.

Coach Knittle had plenty of pitchers to call upon when the Cardinals faced off with the Aviators earlier this week. A win over the fourth seed would have sent Knittle's men into the Struthers District championship against either number two seed Poland or third seeded Niles. The Bulldogs got lucky when they were awarded a place in the district semis after actually losing their sectional final game to Hubbard. The Eagles were declared ineligible forcing them to forfeit their two sectional wins. As Knittle said, capturing a district championship was certainly one of Canfield's top goals entering this season. One would think dashing former archrival Poland's dreams in the process would be the icing on the cake. Canfield's rookie coach doesn't necessarily agree.

"It really doesn't matter who we see, we are focused on whatever opponent is next," Knittle said.



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