PARMA HTS. — Keystone is just one win away from its fourth district championship in a row.
The Wildcats scratched out a 2-1 win over Buckeye on Tuesday in a Division II district semifinal played at Cuyahoga Community College’s Mottl Field.
Keystone (22-5) advanced to play Benedictine today at Tri-C at 5 p.m. in the district final. Benedictine defeated Holy Name 7-0 in the other semifinal.
The game featured a pitchers duel between Keystone’s Kendle Stiner and Buckeye’s Eli Kraus, who matched zeros early on.
Kraus had allowed just two hits before Keystone came to life in the fifth inning. After a Denny Szalai walk and a Chris Sittinger single, Collin Fitzgerald came up clutch with two outs, stroking a two-run double to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead.
“I was 0-for-2 on the day and usually I don’t go 0-for-3 so I jumped on the first pitch,” Fitzgerald said. “This was a good team effort. Everybody was in the game the whole time. We were solid. I’m excited about us making a run back to regionals.”
After allowing a leadoff single to Vinnie Galizio to start the game, Stiner set down 17 straight Buckeye hitters until he hit Galizio with a pitch in the sixth.
He didn’t allow another hit until the seventh inning, when he gave up back-to-back doubles to Jeff Susalla and Tyler Sovizral to lead off the inning. Sovizral’s double brought home Susalla to cut the deficit to one.
“I’m proud of our guys for fighting,” said Buckeye coach Steve Wright, whose team fell to 12-14. “You take away those two at-bats, he pitched a pretty good game. There’s nothing more I can really say.”
After Stiner got Andrew Maxwell to pop up to short for the first out, he hit Barrett Huspaska to put guys on first and second with one out.
Liam Murray lifted a fly ball to left field that was dropped, but Szalai had the presence of mind to throw to third for the force and second out. Stiner struck out Nick Neel to end the game.
Stiner (8-0) looked unhittable for most of the game and finished with seven strikeouts. He said his game plan was to trust his defense.
“I knew they were going to hit the ball so I just tried to throw strikes, let them hit and let my defense work,” Stiner said. “I wasn’t going out there trying to strike anyone out. I was just letting the ball fly and letting my ‘D’ work. That’s what we do every game. I’m not going to change anything because it’s a district semi.
“That’s what good ballclubs do is stick together and pull those ones out that are close. That’s what it takes. All these games are going to be like this.”
Keystone coach Bert Fitzgerald knew getting by Buckeye wouldn’t be easy and his team was prepared to face the Bucks’ best pitcher.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve been facing Eli for four years. It’s never easy. The kid’s fantastic.
“Stiner did a great job through six innings, but maybe he was getting a little more tired than he let on. We were pretty close to taking him out, but his pitch count was so low and he’s been our man for the last two years. It got a little dicey at the end, but it was his game to lose.”
Contact Steve Walker at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.