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Pleasure without the P

Red Knights survive semifinal upset-minded Crusaders, 3-0

Toronto's Caleb Leasure pitches against Catholic Central during Saturday's Division IV sectional semifinal. -Andrew Grimm

TORONTO — Everyone that follows high school baseball in Ohio knows what

Toronto’s goal each and every spring is.

The defending champs completed the first step in the journey to the ultimate goal, winning Saturday afternoon’s Division IV East District sectional semifinal, though they had to work harder than one might have predicted by simply looking at the seeds.

Toronto, the top seed in the Division IV East and who spent much of the season as the top-ranked team in the state, behind a complete-game shutout performance from Caleb Leasure, fended off great effort from a young No. 14 seed Catholic Central team Saturday afternoon at the Knights Baseball Complex for a 3-0 victory.

“It was nice to get out here and play. The weather was great, the kids were anxious to play and we came out with a victory,” veteran Toronto head coach Brian Perkins said. “Their pitcher threw a good game and kept us off balance. We were able to take advantage of getting guys on, getting a hit when we needed it and doing what we had to win.”

Though Leasure may not have had his best stuff, the senior who has a lot of tournament/playoff experience not only on the diamond, but also on the hardwood and gridiron, was able to fan six, only walked two and worked out of a couple jams, scattering five hits.

“He didn’t have his best stuff, but really gutted it,” Perkins said. “He didn’t have his best stuff, but he threw a shutout, and that says a lot about Caleb. He’s a senior, and he wanted the ball. He did what he needed to do and threw a great game for us.

“He’s a multi-sport player. He’s used to competing. We know he’s never afraid of a moment and we know we can throw him out there. He did a great job.”

The Crusaders, who drop the curtain at 4-18 but played much better baseball in some close games in the week leading up to Saturday, stranded five runners in scoring position in the game, including twice at second and third.

“We had a couple of opportunities and just couldn’t get that one more hit, or one more good ball in play when we needed it,” CCHS first-year coach Aaron Henderson said. “Credit to Toronto, they made plays and didn’t make mistakes, and both pitchers threw strikes and went right at it. It was a really good game. I’m real proud of the way we played. It was a fun baseball game to be a part of.

“I’m proud of my boys this last week. It’s been a rough season, but this last week you could see the light switches starting to go on. This game (Saturday) says a lot about our kids. Our motto all year has been fight to the last out because we knew it was going to be a tough campaign.”

Catholic Central ace Ryan Anderson gave his team a chance to pull what would have been one of the bigger sectional upsets in the state, striking out seven, walking four and allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits — all singles.

“That kid fights — he’s tough as nails,” Henderson said. “Things really don’t phase him or get to him, they got a couple things going on him and he kept his composure. When it looked like they were going to put an inning together, we made some nice plays, threw a runner out, got a big play on defense and went back to the dugout thinking, ‘Alright, we’re still in this.'”

The Red Knights (20-3) struck first in the bottom of the first when Brycen Miller put the ball in play with two outs, and a bobble allowed Avery Wiegand, who had the game’s first hit, to race around and score.

The score, though, remained 1-0 until the bottom of the fifth, as Anderson then recovered and put up three-straight goose eggs on the board to keep up with Leasure.

Perkins preached patience to his team, while Anderson had them off balance, telling them “keep seeing pitches.”

That approach ultimately paid off in the fifth when, with Anderson’s pitch count starting to elevate, Miller and Evan Wolter had back-to-back RBI singles to push the lead to 3-0, which became vital in the top of the sixth when the Crusaders had runners on second and third and nearly pushed one across when Andrew Dorsey, who doubled, rounded third on a Tate McKenna single. However, he had to turn back, as the throw home was going to be on time.

“Anytime you get a good pitcher going and you can get him up into their pitch count, you’re talking the pitch count rule and fatigue,” Perkins said. “We just wanted to battle and see good pitches. As you go on, the more pitches you see, the better at-bats you’re going to have.

“Getting better never stops. You’ve got to stay focused at the plate and have a good approach. We did that (Saturday) and it worked out for us.”

With action in the bullpen, Leasure quickly left little doubt that he was going to keep the ball to finish things off in the top of the seventh, striking out the first two Central batters swinging, before getting a routine grounder to short for the final out.

SENIOR FAREWELL

The Crusaders’ lone senior, Nate Stark, played his final game.

“I can’t say enough about Nate, he’s such a great kid,” Henderson said. “What I’m going to miss most about him is the character and what he brought to us and how he stepped into a role most would not want to as the only senior. To be new to us, and the school, it just tells you how he didn’t give in and what kind of kid he is.”

BRIGHT FUTURE

With only Stark departing and with signs of improvement late in the season and the experience of going toe-to-toe with a state powerhouse, Henderson sees a bright future for the Crusaders.

“It was huge (to come up here and play well). You could see the effort from the younger kids” Henderson said. “We had four freshmen out there and two sophomores. It’s a young group, but to come up here and play like that against one of the premier programs in the Valley and hang with them, it showed them that we can play.

“We played close with everybody this week. I told them all of the work was to get ready for (Saturday), and they did their job and played hard. I’m really proud of them and hope it’s a sign of things to come.”

CHASING 26

The Red Knights will battle No. 10 seed Malvern, a 4-2 winner over No. 13 seed Caldwell on Saturday, at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Knights Baseball Complex in the sectional final. Should Toronto prevail, it would add to what is already a record with a 26th straight sectional title.

Toronto 3, Catholic Central 0

Central 0-0-0 0-0-0 0 — 0 5 2

Toronto 1-0-0 0-2-0 x — 3 6 0

CATHOLIC CENTRAL (4-18): Anderson (LP, 6IP, 3R, 2ER, 6H, 7K, 4BB) and Dorsey. Solema S; Dorsey S, D; McKenna 2S; Barcalow S.

TORONTO (20-3): Leasure (WP, CG, 0R, 5H, 6K, 2BB) and Earley. Bauscher S; Wiegand S; Parker S; Miller S, RBI; Wolter S, RBI.

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