After building a nine-run lead through three innings, host Charleston Catholic couldn’t push across another, thus having to wait through seven frames that felt like a formality to hoist the Class A Region 3 Section 2 baseball trophy.
But that was OK to the Irish, they’d shown patience from the outset.
Catholic (22-8) drew nine walks and was hit by pitch twice over the opening three innings, punctuated by an eight-run outburst in the third that was more than enough for pitcher Jacob Hufford and a spotless Irish defense in an 11-2 sectional clincher over Midland Trail on Wednesday.
The win sent Catholic into a best-of-three regional series against James Monroe next week. Game 1 will be played at 6 p.m. Monday at Shawnee Park, with Game 2 Tuesday at James Monroe and, if necessary, Game 3 Wednesday at Shawnee.
Before looking ahead, Charleston Catholic coach Bill Mehle’s focus was on the game his team had just played. While Catholic was unable to land the game-shortening knockout blow, there was plenty to be satisfied about both in terms of the sectional championship and the performance itself.
“The guys have been very focused and competitive in practice and it’s been a challenge because the underclassmen have been having their exams this week and our graduates, obviously, are not in school and they came to practice every day very focused,” Mehle said. “We didn’t know when we were going to put the ball in play and we left today not knowing if we would get this game in with the threat of lightning, so hats off to them for staying focused and competitive coming into this game.”
Hufford led off, fittingly, with a walk and Evan Sayre singled followed by a one-out walk for Rennie Thomas to load the bases after four batters in the home half of the first. Michael Ferrell brought Hufford and Sayre home with a single to right, giving the Irish the early 2-0 advantage.
Trail answered immediately with two in the top of the second with four straight hitters reaching via single with one out. Larry Bigham and Chris Vines each brought in a run with their hits. It could have been a turning point in the game as the Patriots brought the top of their lineup to the plate with two on and one out, yet Hufford coaxed a popup to third from Bo Persinger and struck out Griffin Boggs to end the threat. Hufford would yield just two singles the rest of the way, both to Vines, who hit in the ninth spot in the lineup.
“He gets more tenacious, more focused, more competitive as the game goes along,” Mehle said of Huffman. “Midland Trail one through nine, they have great hitters. I’ve scouted them a few different games, they’ve played us a few times — I might have seen more of their games than some of their parents this season and I know they all can hit. For Jake to keep them off balance, to miss smartly with two strikes and to mix in his cutter and his curveball and his slider — he threw them all very effectively and threw them all for strikes and kept them off balance.”
Gannon Morris gave Catholic the lead back in the bottom half as he walked and later scored on a squeeze bunt from Sayre. Then, after Hufford cruised through the top of the third, Catholic blew things wide open.
The Irish sent 14 hitters to the plate in the bottom of the frame, collecting eight runs on five hits, two Trail errors, five more walks and a hit batsman. Sayre pounded a two-run single to center as part of a 3-for-3 day with JW Armstrong, Ferrell and Morris each collecting an RBI as well. Seven Catholic players scored in the inning, with Ferrell coming home twice.
Midland Trail pitcher Cy Persinger was finally lifted with the score 10-2 and the bases loaded, and while Bigham allowed just one more runner to cross the plate before shutting out the Irish the rest of the way, it was far too late.
“When we faced Cy Persinger last time — who’s an excellent pitcher, he just obviously didn’t have his best stuff today — the plan was patient but aggressive,” Mehle said. “We felt that we could compete even better if we were able to get him off the mound. Sometimes he gets stronger as the game goes, today it looked like he was less effective as the game went on. Get his pitch count up with patient and aggressive at-bats. We scored in the first three innings by some timely hits. Michael Ferrell and Evan Sayre had some real quality at-bats, especially with two outs. We’ve really emphasized how to score runners in scoring position with two outs, a number of those eight runs in the big inning were with two outs.”
Ferrell and Liam McGinley each had two-hit efforts for the Irish. Hufford struck out eight and walked one.