Toronto tops Strasburg for district title again

DISTRICT CHAMPS — The Toronto baseball team celebrates after winning the Division IV East District title on Wednesday. (Photo by Joe Catullo)

MINERVA — The Toronto and Strasburg baseball squads have put together a nice tournament rivalry during the past three seasons, with each squaring off for a Division IV district title.

The Tigers still hope to find out what defeating Toronto and the regional tournament are like, and that includes this year.

Solid pitching from A.J. Clegg and Tristan Thomas, as well as timely hitting from Nate Karaffa and Nick Sninchak, lifted the Red Knights to a 5-1 victory on Wednesday. The win guarantees Toronto (23-5) its fourth consecutive trip to Lancaster, with the last three celebrations taking place at Minerva High School.

“We like to play anywhere,” Toronto head coach Brian Perkins said. “Minerva obviously has a great field, and they’re great hosts. Our fan base comes out and supports us. It’s been a fun home-away-from-home place for us, and we’ve had success here.”

Clegg and Thomas gave their team comfort throughout on the mound, combining for eight strikeouts, one run on three hits and five walks.

Clegg started and went the first 3 2/3 innings. The first time through the Tigers’ order, he struck out seven. He was relieved in the fourth due to discomfort in his ankle.

“A.J. did a fantastic job. He’s been a big-game pitcher for us all year,” Perkins said. “I believe in the third he rounded second base, got caught in the turf and twisted his ankle. That caused him some discomfort on the mound.”

Thomas, who started behind the plate, took over and pitched the final 3 1/3 innings to seal the deal. His fastball was not overpowering, but his breaking stuff kept the Tigers (19-12) guessing.

“Definitely his (Clegg’s) fastball had some nice zip on it today, and his curveball was moving nice, too,” Thomas said. “My breaking stuff was on, and I was hitting the corners with my fastball.”

“Tristan is a competitor and an ultimate team guy that will do anything for everybody,” Perkins said. “If we need him to catch, he’ll catch. If we need him to pitch, he’ll pitch. He’s a joy to have around.”

Strasburg began to figure out Clegg in the fourth. A sacrifice fly from Wade Hostetler cut the deficit to 3-1, but the Tigers stranded two against Thomas.

“We knew coming in, with our experience in the past with these guys, that they were going to make you earn it,” Strasburg head coach Mike Becker said. “They weren’t going to give us much. We needed to come up with a couple of hits when we had guys in scoring position, but we just didn’t hit many balls on the nose.”

The Red Knights garnered the early advantage in the bottom of the second when Clegg roped a two-out, two-run single. He finished with two hits overall in the eighth spot.

In the third, Karaffa gave his squad the jolt it needed. After walking his first time, he cranked the first pitch from Strasburg starter Scottie Sauernhimer over the left-field fence for a two-run homer.

“That was a big hit for us,” Perkins said. “It gave us a little bit of a push and some breathing room. We had a lot of adrenaline flowing early on, and that allowed us to settle down and let us play our game.”

Overall, Karaffa reached base all four times and only saw six pitches (four on the first-inning walk, the first-pitch home run and a first-pitch single in the sixth).

Toronto tacked on two insurance runs in the fourth after the Tigers decided they were not going to let Karaffa hurt them again.

Clegg singled to begin the frame. With two away, Lucas Gulczynski was hit by a pitch, setting the stage for Karaffa. After a quick mound visit, Sauernhimer balked, moving the runners to second and third. Karaffa was intentionally walked to load the bases.

“With first base open, we thought why let him beat us? We figured we can’t let the best player in the state beat us,” Becker said. “He’s a great hitter.”

Cleanup hitter Nick Sninchak stepped in and lined a two-run single down the third-base line. He was thrown out advancing to second base, but the damage was already done.

“Nate had a big hit earlier, so I knew they were going to walk him,” Sninchak said. “I was hoping for that, and I’m glad they did it. Whenever someone gets intentionally walked to get me up, I just walk up there with an attitude. My team expects me to come up big with two outs and the bases loaded.”

“There’s a reason why Nick hits fourth in our order,” Perkins said. “He’s a very knowledgeable baseball guy who loves the game. There’s nobody else I would want up in that situation than Nick Sninchak. He came through and has been doing that all season for us.”

Sauernhimer took the loss in 4 1/3 innings. He allowed five runs on six hits, four walks and struck out five. Mike Neidenthal tossed the final 1 2/3 innings.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Strasburg, the No. 4 seed, shut down fifth-seeded Catholic Central, 3-0, on Monday. The second-seeded Red Knights took down No. 1 seed Hiland, 4-0.

SAME OLD STORY

In 2017, top-seeded Toronto edged second-seeded Strasburg, 3-2. It also was the last time Toronto later advanced to the state tournament. Last season, Toronto, the No. 1 seed again, blanked No. 7 seed Strasburg, 6-0.

UP NEXT

Strasburg: Season concludes.

Toronto: Will face Huntington at 5 p.m. next Thursday. Huntington defeated Whiteoak, 8-3, on Wednesday for its first district title of any sport in school history.

(Catullo can be reached at jcatullo@heraldstaronline.com)

Toronto 5, Strasburg 1

Strasburg 0-0-0 1-0-0 0 – 1-3-2

Toronto 0-1-2 2-0-0 x – 5-9-1

STRASBURG (19-12): Sauernhimer (lp, 4 1/3IP, 5R, 6H, 4BB, 5K); Mik. Neidenthal (1 2/3IP, 0R, 3H, 0BB, 0K) and Hostetler.

TORONTO (23-5): Clegg (3 2/3IP, 1R, 1H, 3BB, 7K); Thomas (3 1/3IP, 0R, 2H, 2BB, 1K) and Thomas, Gulczynski (3).

TWO OR MORE HITS: Strasburg none; Toronto (Karaffa 2, Clegg 2). DOUBLES: none. TRIPLES: none. HOME RUNS: Strasburg none; Toronto 1 (Karaffa). RBIs: Strasburg (Hostetler); Toronto (Karaffa 2, Sninchak 2, Clegg).

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