Crusaders top Toronto in D-IV district championship

CAMBRIDGE – Josh Merriman looked to third base coach Joe Colabella for the sign.

“He was angled a little funny and I wasn’t sure if it was a bunt or not,” said Merriman.

It was.

And, Merriman missed the sign.

What he did, instead, was lace the pitch into right center for a triple to score Austin Oliver, who had doubled to lead off the bottom of the third inning.

“I figured, swing,” said Merriman. “You take them where you can get them.

“We were pretty excited coming into this game. We’ve been thinking about it since Monday (a 3-2 win over Hiland). We came prepared. We got a good round of batting practice in today and carried it to the field.”

Merriman was brought home via an Aleks Porreca double. Porreca crossed the plate on a Johnny DiCarlantonio groundout and the Crusaders held a 5-0 lead over rival Toronto in the Ohio Division IV district championship Thursday at Don Coss Field.

Porreca took over from there and pitched a complete game four-hitter in a 6-1 victory.

The Crusaders have a 2 p.m. date Thursday at Lancaster High School against Bainbridge Paint Valley in a regional semifinal.

“When we have Aleks or Murph (Chris Murphy) or anybody on the mound, we know we have to put the bat on the ball and we have a pretty good shot,” said Merriman, who also had a single in the first inning to drive home Stone Romano for Central’s second run of the inning.

Murphy was hit by a pitch and erased at second via a fielder’s choice in the first. Romano was hit by a pitch and Oliver followed with a single to plate Brenton Colabella.

“We did the same thing against Hiland,” said Colabella. “We came out strong and scored early. We just did a better job today carrying it throughout the whole game.

“Our job is to come out and start the game with energy. If we come out and play hard and smart, we feel we can win any game.”

“We had a couple of opportunities, but we didn’t capitalize,” said Red Knights head coach Brian Perkins. “Today just wasn’t our day.”

Ryan Cline ripped a two-out double in the top of the second inning to put runners on second and third, but Porreca got out of the inning with a K.

Nate Stewart and Blaze Glenn had back-to-back two-out singles an inning later, but Porreca ended the inning the same way.

Chez Glenn reached on an error in the fifth, moved to second on a pickoff attempt and scored on a Stewart base knock. Stewart was left at second.

Jarin McIntosh took the loss. He fanned five and walked three.

“I want to give our kids a lot of credit,” said Perkins. “They just kept getting after it. Our seniors did a great job of keeping this team together early in the season when things weren’t looking good.

“I’m proud of the way we played seven innings today.”

Porreca struck out 11 and walked three.

“I wanted the ball pretty badly,” said Porreca. “But, it wasn’t just me out there today. It was a team effort. It took all of us to beat Toronto. Everybody chipped in in some way.

“I was pretty nervous coming into the game. But, when I had the ball in my hand, I felt calm. I knew what I was doing.”

Central finished with seven hits – all by Oliver, Merriman and Porreca. Oliver finished with a pair of singles, a double and an RBI.

“He’s been swinging the bat well,” Crusaders head coach Don Young said of Oliver. “This was a pure team win. Everyone contributed in some way.

“Aleks pitched well, we played good defense, except for a couple of instances.

“Both games out here, we hit the field ready to go. We’ve come out with a lot of energy here lately.

“Whomever we hand the ball to, we expect that out of them. Al wanted this game. He wants the ball and wants to go seven. He just keeps after it. I thought he threw the ball really well today.

“Toronto always comes with a lot of enthusiasm and we talked about getting to them early and staying on them. We did that today.

“We’ve had our struggles scoring runs this year and this time of year it gets harder and harder to score runs. I was proud of our effort today.”