Central one win away from Final Four

LANCASTER – Chris Murphy found the base paths once on Thursday against Paint Valley.

But, it was a big once.

He stepped to the dish in the top of the fourth inning having already struck out twice.

“I struggled at the plate before that, but when I came to bat I knew we needed base runners,” said Murphy. “Drawing the walk there was big for us.”

That juiced the sacks and brought to the plate senior Brenton Colabella, who already had a double and single on his resume.

“I was looking to get something simple, a single or a double, to score runs because we needed runs there,” said Colabella. “We didn’t score in the previous two innings and we needed something there.

“I saw a curve ball that hung and took it to right field.

“I’ve been struggling a little bit at the plate and I just tried to stay smooth and go the other way. It worked out for us.”

The first-pitch lace to right went to the fence, cleared the sacks and gave Catholic Central a 6-1 lead in the Division IV regional semifinal at Beavers Field at Lancaster High School.

Murphy did the rest, along with the final inning from Nick Ivkovich, punctuated by a 9-3 double play to end the 6-1 victory and a berth in today’s Elite 8.

“Murph’s scuffling a little bit at the plate right now and I told him that he didn’t get outside himself on that at-bat; he stayed within himself and it was huge,” said Central coach Don Young. “It set us up with bases loaded and B (Brenton) is hot right now. It was a 3-1 game at the time and that gave us some breathing room.

“All the way around the field, we got some great contributions from everyone.”

Murphy was efficient on the bump, striking out five and walking none.

“He pitched really well,” Young said of Murphy. “He limited his pitches and we’re happy about that.”

The inning started with a leadoff double by Josh Merriman, his second of the contest. He came home on a Kutch Clark triple.

Clark was out on a bang-bang play at home on a Johnny DiCarlantonio grounder.

Michael Barber drew the first big walk and Murphy came to the dish.

“A 6-run lead really helps out a lot,” said Murphy. “It helps you relax out there on the mound, throw your game and let your defense make plays.”

Colabella singled with one out in the top of the first. Stone Romano was hit by a pitch and they both moved up on a wild pitch. Colabella scored on an Austin Oliver groundout and Romano came home via Merriman’s two-out double.

“I think the doubles were big,” Merriman admitted, “especially scoring the second run in the first inning kind of quiets them down a little bit and gives us all the life.

“The one in the fourth got us going after we didn’t score in the second and third.

“Those four (runs) gave us a little room, a little insurance and we had to make sure we didn’t give them back.”

They didn’t.

“We’ve been coming to the ballpark ready to play,” said Young. “Our kids have been working really hard the last couple of weeks, getting back to what we were doing early in the season.

“We were really proud of the effort from everybody. They (the Bearcats) are a nice team and have some really nice players. Our kids stuck in there and executed and I thought we kept the pressure on them the whole game. That was the key for us.”

The Crusaders (23-5) will take on 18-7 Newark Catholic, a 4-1 winner over Glouster Trimble, at 5 p.m. today on the same field for the right to make it to the Final Four next week in Columbus.

“We’ve been gearing up for this for three years,” said Young. “We thought we missed an opportunity last year. We’re glad to be here, but we still have work to do.

“Our biggest game of the year will come tomorrow.”