The Keystone baseball players remembered the feeling of losing to Buckeye at James H. Tighe Field last May. It wasn’t a warm and fuzzy memory, especially considering the Bucks went on to take the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division championship.
The Wildcats blazed a new path Monday on their road to redemption — at a jogging pace to first base.
Behind 11 walks from its lineup and a two-hit shutout from Steiner, Keystone defeated the Bucks 8-0 to clinch the outright PAC Stars Division title.
The Wildcats (19-4, 14-0) have outscored conference opponents 164-11 this season.
“I think winning the conference here is a big thing,” Szalai said. “Last year, they did take it from us. It was a bummer, so this year bringing it to them at their place is a big win for us.
“(Today at Penfield Community Park) will be no different. It’s still a big game to show them what we’ve got two days in a row.”
Keystone scored five runs on five walks and three soft singles in the fourth inning off curveball-throwing left-hander Barrett Huspaska (2-3). The bases were loaded when the inning ended, but Huspaska needed 54 pitches to get through it.
Steiner (1-for-2, two runs, three walks) began the walkfest with an infield single, and bases on balls to Aaron Brodnik and Chris Sittinger loaded the bases. Szalai (0-for-1, four walks) and Cody Wilson then drove in the first runs on walks, Collin Fitzgerald followed with a bloop RBI single and Toledo recruit Tyler Gullett brought in two on a single up the middle.
While the clutch hits were important, the walks set the tone. All five came on 3-2 counts.
“As soon as Keystone got the lead, it looked like it deflated us,” Buckeye coach Steve Wright said.
“We lost any momentum we could have had right at that point.”
Huspaska left after five innings, 126 pitches, nine walks, a hit batter and seven strikeouts. Buckeye reliever Nick Neel then allowed three runs in the sixth on a two-run double by Korey Horne and a Sittinger RBI single.
It was an exhibition of patience — and a lack of strike throwing — as Keystone averaged 3.95 pitches per plate appearance.
“Our philosophy is to make the pitcher work,” said Szalai, who swung only once at 23 pitches over five plate appearances. “If we make the pitcher work and get them deep in the count and see more pitches, it hurts the other team more than it hurts us.”
The Wildcats didn’t need more runs because Steiner was dialed in from the start.
The hard-throwing senior attacked the lower half of the strike zone and didn’t allow a runner to reach second base until the fifth inning. The only contact by Buckeye (8-10, 7-3) that left the infield was a soft fly ball to center field off the bat of Jeff Susalla in the first.
Both Bucks hits were infield singles as Otterbein commit Vinnie Galizio and Andrew Maxwell beat out rollers to short that all but died in the unusually thick grass.
Steiner walked four — two came in the seventh inning with the outcome all but decided — and struck out 11.
“It feels good to win (the division) again, especially on their field,” he said. “They’re a great ballclub. They’re not as tough as last year, but obviously they’re the defending champs, so it feels good.
“I was just getting ahead. Throwing first-pitch strikes is what it’s all about.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.