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Canfield upends Red Dragons, 9-2

Advance to battle Chagrin Falls in tonight’s regional semifinal

May 25, 2017
By Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

The No. 2-seeded Cardinals used a patient approach at the plate, and it led to a six-run fifth inning and a 9-2 victory over top-seeded Niles on May 16 at Bob Cene Park.

The victory over the Red Dragons (19-5) ended a great run by Niles, which dominated the All-American Conference White Tier and had allowed one hit in its first two postseason games.

All season long, the pitching staff at Niles has dominated the conference. That great throwing is what helped earn the Red Dragons the top seed in the Struthers district of the Division II state tournament.

Article Photos

Town Crier / Cindy DeRose
The Canfield Cardinals celebrate as teammate Anthony Vross displays the Division II Struthers district championship trophy for his team. The No.-seeded Cardinals defeated the top-seeded Niles Red Dragons, 9-2, May 16 at Bob Cene Park. The local boys (17-6) advanced to play Chagrin Falls (24-5) 5 p.m. tonight in the regional semifinal at The Ballpark at Hudson. The regional finals are scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday.

There was one team from the upper tier of the league, however, that the Niles group never encountered - Canfield.

When the two local schools faced off for a district title last week, the Cardinals took advantage right from the start.

Canfield (16-6) had six hits and took advantage of two errors, five walks, two hit-by-pitches, a balk, a passed ball and a wild pitch - among other things. Several of the miscues came in the big fifth inning, when the Cardinals took a 9-1 lead.

The Cardinals scored early in the game but then exploded for six runs in the fifth inning to douse the Dragons, 9-2. The landmark victory gave the Cardinals their first district crown in five seasons. The local boys (17-6) play Chagrin Falls (24-5) 5 p.m. tonight in a Division II regional semifinal at The Ballpark at Hudson.

The regional finals are scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday.

One of the keys to beating a team with great starting pitching is to establish offense as early as possible. The Cardinals did just that as they plated a pair of runs pm May 16 before many of the fans in attendance were comfortable in their seats.

Canfield was able to score first because the team's first two hitters were professional at the bat.

Leadoff hitter Alex Hernandez hit a line drive to begin the game that went off the leg of the Niles shortstop and caromed into the outfield for a double.

"... Hernandez had a 12 pitch at bat that set the tone for us," head coach Matt Koenig said. "If he would have struck out, who knows how things would have turned out. Then Dominic Pilolli hit a triple, so our first two batters had a double and a triple."

Pilolli drilled a triple into the right-center field gap. He eventually scored with two outs, when a slow chopper went off the glove of the Red Dragons' third baseman.

Up 2-1 in the fifth, Canfield cemented its place in the regionals with its enormous inning. Three hits and three wild pitches by the Dragons spurred Canfield's six-run barrage. It was the type of inning Niles had avoided most of this year and one that could make champions out of the team that had it.

Canfield scored seven runs - five earned - off Niles starting pitcher Tyler Srbinovich, who entered the game with an ERA under 1.00.

While the starting pitching on the Niles side was shaky, Canfield's was incredible thanks to Ian McGraw. The junior worked five strong innings, giving up two runs on three hits.

He was relieved by Anthony Longo in the sixth. Longo tossed zeroes in his two innings of work and struck out three.

Sophomore Ricky Havrilla had, perhaps, the biggest hit of the contest for Canfield when he spanked a two-run single to put the game out of reach in the sensational sixth inning. Hernandez, Pilolli and Kyle Willis also had RBIs for the Cardinals.

The way Canfield came at Niles from so many different angles proved how deep this year's team is. It is something that makes Koenig blush with excitement as the regionals commence.

"I think this team has a pretty solid mix of guys that can swing the bat 1-9," Koenig said. "We have guys who come off the bench that can swing it, too."

Chagrin Falls is a squad that can swing the bats dangerously as well. The Tigers enter the regional semifinal after crushing Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, 10-7, in the Euclid district final, which earned the Chagrin Falls its second straight district championship.

Like Canfield did versus Niles, the Tigers pounced on CVCA early with a nine-run first inning, which allowed their pitching to purr the rest of the night.

It is not known who will toe the rubber for Chagrin Falls against Canfield, but a good bet may be Colin Kennedy, who didn't surrender an earned run in the district final and is 6-1 on the season.

On the other hand, Koenig is very certain who'll be starting for his squad.

"We'll be going with Jack Rafoth," he said.

If Koenig's kids are successful in the Sweet Sixteen, they will meet the winner of Notre Dame Cathedral Latin and Tallmadge in the regional championship on Friday.

Koenig is not certain who would get the ball then, but he knows that using the same formula he did in the district final is a favorable option.

"McGraw did such a great job (in the final), and we have Anthony Longo who can come in, too," he said. "Once you are one of the final 16 teams, you can let it loose and play with confidence."



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