Steubenville heads to district tournament having won 12 in a row

STEUBENVILLE – When the 2014 season began, Big Red’s baseball team was like a box of chocolate. Veteran coach Fred Heatherington wasn’t sure what he was going to get.

On Saturday at sometimes soggy Vacarro Field, he got the upper bracket championship in the Division II East Sectional tournament.

Heatherington’s club banged out 14 hits and cruised to a 14-3 six-inning victory over Buckeye Local. The sectional crown is the 31st in program history.

“Who’d thunk it,” Heatherington, whose team has now won 12 in a row, said. “Our kids have been working hard all year. Every coach says that about their team, but our kids have worked their tails off.

“We are sectional champs and I’m proud of this team. We’re 22-4 and right now we’re ranked second in the state and deservedly so.”

Big Red, which now advances to next week’s district event at Warsaw River View High School, holds the second spot in the latest Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association D II poll. Unbeaten Bloom Carroll is first and John Glenn, Big Red’s district opponent, was seventh.

The top-seeded Big Red took the lead for good by plating four in the top of the first. After Panther starter Chase Hopkins retired two straight, Anthony Zorne singled to left. Niko Petrides reached on an error (Buckeye missed an opportunity to retire the side) and Branden Jones loaded the bases with a base hit.

Zorne raced home on a wild pitch. Kai McClurg drew a free pass to reload the bases. Justin Corsi, who had a monster game at the plate, then lifted a double to right, clearing the bases.

“We started making mistakes early,” noted Buckeye boss Rick DeLuca. “We could have got out of the first inning with no problem, but we made three mistakes and from there, it just mushroomed.

“When you play a good team like Big Red, you can’t give them anything. We gave them a lot and they took advantage of it.”

Petrides’ grounder to first pushed Big Red’s lead to 5-0 in the second. Kasey Peterson’s single up the middle scored two more in the third. Corsi and Lucas Herrington delivered RBI in the fourth.

In the sixth, Big Red sent 10 batters to the dish and plated five more tallies. Corsi, who finished with four hits and four RBI, launched the rally with a leadoff single. Herrington and Bryan Pierro also had base knocks and Petrides placed a double down the third base line, knocking in a pair.

Dimitri Collaros and Zorne also drove home runs.

Petrides, Pierro and Herrington joined Corsi in the multiple-hit club.

Hopkins worked the first two innings for Buckeye Local, which drops the curtain at 13-12, before giving way to Jonathan Borkoski.

Zorne went the route for Big Red to collect the pitching victory. The sophomore lefty scattered seven hits, allowed just one walk and fanned seven.

DeLuca’s Panthers did all their scoring in the fourth. Eric Banal and Borkoski (they both finished with two hits) had back-to-back singles. Brandon Panepucci doubled to left-center, scoring Banal. One batter later, Eric Williams’ base hit pushed home Borkoski and Panepucci.

In the Buckeye first, Jared Moore worked Zorne for a one-out walk. Banal singled to right and the Panthers had runners at first and second. The threat ended when Peterson fielded Borkoski’s grounder, stepped on third and fired to Petrides at first to complete the double play.

“We hit the ball hard against two good pitchers,” Heatherington commented. “They threw strikes and we got on it. We ran the bases really well and that helped us in our big innings. We played well, Anthony pitched well and we played good defense in miserable weather.

“Since the first four games, our kids have really been disciplined at the plate and that has really helped us. We’ve won 20 of our last 22 games. We’ve received good pitching and played good defense. At the plate, we’ve been very disciplined and that has been working.”

DeLuca, who finished his second season at the Buckeye helm, praised his team for “improving a lot.”

“We got to play a lot of young kids this season,” he pointed out. “The kids worked hard, hung together and stayed together. They’re good kids. Maybe we didn’t have the killer instinct we need at the end but we improved a lot.”

Big Red’s district date is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday.

“Our goal was to get back to River View,” Heatherington said. “Now, our goal is to get out of River View.”