Seventh inning does in Red Knights

CAMBRIDGE – After six frustrating innings, the Tuscarawas Central Catholic baseball team needed a plan.

Trailing 1-0 going into the seventh inning, veteran coach Jeff Fondriest came up with one.

“Get the leadoff man on, bunt him to second and get some key hits,” was how starting pitcher Andrew Cugliari explained it.

The Saints’ gameplan produced four runs in the top of the seventh and they closed it out from there for a 4-1 win over Toronto in the Division IV district championship game at Don Coss Field.

Central, now 22-5, plays in the regional for the third time in four years at Lancaster. The Saints play Mowrystown Whiteoak Thursday at 2 p.m. at Beavers Field.

“We followed the plan to perfection,” Cugliari said. “We knew we were going to get to the top of the order and we knew this could happen.”

Sophomore Max Fragasse, the No. 9 hitter, led off with a single up the middle and he moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Michael Lawless.

Cugliari bounced a single to right to score Fragasse to tie the game and suddenly, the Saints had new life.

Gage Miller followed with a single to right and Alex Lawless singled to right to score Cugliari with the go-ahead run.

Cade Cummings got a third straight hit to score Miller and Matt Fondriest beat out an infield single to load the bases.

A grounder to third by Dan Fuller resulted in an out at third, but drove in Alex Lawless with the final run of the game.

“I believe in this bunch,” Fondriest said. “I may have coached better teams, but this team just doesn’t quit.”

Toronto got a man on second base in the bottom of the inning, but Cugliari got the final out on a fly ball to center.

Toronto broke open a scoreless game with a run in the fifth.

Tyler Antinone reached on an error to lead off the game and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Nate Stewart.

Chez Glenn beat out a bunt that moved Antinone to third and he scored on a sacrifice fly to right by Blaze Glenn.

“That was one heck of a baseball game,” said Toronto coach Brian Perkins.

“We were able to scratch out a run, but you have to give them credit for coming back like that.”

The early part of the game was a battle between Cugliari and Toronto senior Tyler Owens.

The Saints had two runners on base in the first, second and fourth innings, but Owens got key outs to keep the game scoreless.

“We had opportunity after opportunity, but just didn’t put it together,” Fondriest said. “We finally picked a great time to put it together.”

The Toronto starter gave up just two hits through the first six innings.

Cugliari was equally as good. He gave up just two singles and hit a batter through the first six innings.

“He told me before the game that his arm was really feeling good,” senior catcher Alex Lawless said of Cugliari. “He pitched a good game. I was proud of him.”

The Saints are making another trip to the regional tournament, but are looking for better results.

“The last two times, we lost in the first game,” Fondriest said. “Our goal is to go there and have a better showing. We think the Division IV tournament is the best in the state, so we feel we have something to prove.”

The Red Knights end a fine season at 21-7.

“Tyler pitched a heck of a game and he’ll really be missed,” Perkins said. “He’s been our horse all year long and we’ve looked to him every time we needed a big game.

“I’d also like to give a special thanks to my assistant coaches Mark Ferrell, Josh Danko, Cody Sutton, Jake Booth and Jonathan Durand. “They really had our kids ready to play today.”