Meadville Tribune

Sports

July 7, 2014

Cardinals hold off McLane for D-1 crown

COCHRANTON — The tension was palpable all around the baseball diamond as the McLane Little League All-Stars had the tying and go-ahead runs threatening from scoring position with just one out in the top of the sixth.

The only person who didn’t seem to be sweating it — at least, he didn’t appear to be — was Cochranton relief pitcher Ian Haynes.

Haynes calmly set about retiring the final two batters on strikes, preserving a tense 2-1 victory for McLane and wrapping up the 2014 Pennsylvania District 1 championship for the Cardinals on Monday.

“Very excited, obviously,” said Cochranton head coach Matt Bernarding, covered, like the rest of the team, in a thick layer of shaving cream following a postgame celebration. “We definitely earned it the whole way. Ian stepped up big for us at the end of the game.”

Cochranton now moves on to the Pennsylvania Section 1 tournament, which gets underway Saturday in Saegertown. The Cardinals will face Clarion, the District 25 representative, in the opening round.

Meanwhile, McLane’s season comes to a close. But the Edinboro boys made it a battle worthy of a title game.

“These guys, they never gave up all year long,” said McLane head coach Jason Buto. “We’ve played travel ball with a lot of these guys. We’ve done regular season. We played a lot of tournament games. And these guys never quit.”

Both teams’ offenses struggled against the combined forces of Cochranton’s starting pitcher Curtis Freyermuth and McLane’s Tanner Daniels.

Cochranton managed to scratch across a run in the top of the first when Freyermuth drew a walk to lead off the game, moved to second on a wild pitch, and then scored on a single to shallow right by Josh Merchbaker.

That would be Cochranton’s only hit of the first three innings. The Cardinals, struggling to find Daniels’ mix of fast balls and breaking balls, left two runners stranded in the second and another in the third, and then left the bases loaded in the fourth.

“Myself, and I think every other coach, our arms are shot trying to do what (McLane’s pitchers) do,” said Bernarding. “But they definitely had us off-balance the whole game.”

Cochranton did manage to score what would be the game-winner in that fourth inning, however. Logan Nemeth and Brandon Richter hit back-to-back singles with one out. Then Andrew McDonough drew a two-out walk to load the bases and bring up Freyermuth.

Knowing that Freyermuth is capable of hammering the ball, Daniels was directed to issue four unhittable pitches, forcing in a run but perhaps limiting any more damage.

“They gave up one run versus possibly four,” said Bernarding. “It makes perfect sense. At the end of the game, maybe it hurt them and maybe it didn’t. It was a gutsy call either way.”

And, indeed, Daniels caught the next batter looking to end the inning. It would be his final batter faced. He ended the game allowing two runs on three hits with six walks and four strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Freyermuth was in complete command for the first five innings. He was hitless during that span, earning 14 of the 15 outs via strikeouts. The only play the defense had to make was a grounder to first by Grady Johnson in the third inning.

“If you notice, all of our players had their toes on the inside part of the batter’s box,” said Buto.

“Every one of them got in to fight for an at-bat, to fight for a piece of the ball. We got his pitch count up. We did everything we could to win this game. But (Freyermuth), I’ve got to think that he’s the best pitcher in the state.”

In the sixth, however, McLane found a way. An error put Daniels on board. And then Jackson Spires ended Freyermuth’s no-hit bid with a double down the left field line, plating Daniels to make it a 2-1 game. Spires later moved to third on a wild pitch.

Then with one out, Billy Jukes got on board with a walk. And Freyermuth was out of pitches, bringing Haynes to the mound.

“Ian’s a competitor, there’s no doubt,” said Bernarding. “Obviously you’re going to ride the arm of Curtis as long as you can.

“But there’s no change for me. When Ian comes in, it’s just the same as Curtis. That’s the way this team feels.”

Haynes got the first batter he faced to swing at strike three. He caught the final batter gazing at a curving game-ender.

“Ian and I have been working together for a long time at moving his pitches around,” said Bernarding. “With Curtis, he moves so fast that he just throws down hill all the time. But with Ian, he throws a good mix. And that caught the last two batters real well.”

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