Knights move to Elite 8

LANCASTER — With the Toronto baseball team entering its fourth consecutive trip in the Division IV regional tournament, it knows what it must do to be successful.

A few errors by its opponents doesn’t hurt, either. A young Huntington group, playing in its first regional contest in any boys’ sports, gave the Red Knights plenty of them, five to be exact.

Toronto showed its veteran presence at the plate, in the field and on the mound to advance to the Division IV, Region 15 championship game with an 8-0 victory on Thursday.

“Our kids were very excited to show up today,” Toronto head coach Brian Perkins said. “We made some mistakes, but that created mistakes made by them. We pushed the envelope a little bit, and that created those mistakes. We created some opportunities for ourselves and took advantage of them.”

Even if the Huntsmen (13-15) limited their mistakes defensively, they couldn’t do much against starter A.J. Clegg. He tossed six shutout innings, allowed three hits, two walks, hit two batters and struck out nine.

“Definitely knowing I have a field behind me helped me a lot,” Clegg said. “It gave me confidence knowing I can throw strikes. My curveball was moving really well. Any time they would make contact on my fastball, I knew my teammates would field them.”

Clegg knew nearly a week in advance that he would get the nod. Perkins ultimately decided to save the likes of Nate Karaffa and Tristan Thomas for another time.

“A.J.’s been throwing well for us all season long. We were very confident in him going into this game,” Perkins said. “A.J. mixes his pitches up well and throws for strikes. We also have a great group of guys behind him. He just did a fantastic job today.”

With Clegg’s pitch count closing in on 100, Caleb Leasure pitched the final frame.

The Red Knights (24-5) first dented the scoreboard with a one-out RBI single from Nick Sninchak in the bottom of the first. Then, craziness ensued.

With runners at first and third, Huntington starter Elijah McCloskey caught Sninchak in a rundown. A few throws back-and-forth resulted in a dropped ball at first, enabling Karaffa to score on the error.

In the fourth frame, Tristan Thomas was caught at third after a Brendan Matyas bunt. However, an errant throw to third allowed Thomas to cross home plate.

“We always preach that there are three things we need to do,” Huntington coach Ed Yates said. “We have to throw strikes, which we struggled with at times. We have to play solid defense, which means making the routine plays. Obviously, with five errors we didn’t do that. And, the third is we have to execute offensively. We had baserunners on most innings. We just didn’t them around. When you don’t do those three things, you’re going to lose.

“On the other hand, they did. They executed offensively, they pitched well and they didn’t make any errors.”

Later in the fourth, Lucas Gulczynski drew a bases-loaded walk against two pitchers, before Karaffa ripped an RBI single. That increased the lead to 5-0.

In the fifth, Matyas drove home a run with a bases-loaded bunt. Then, Nick Chetock delivered with an RBI base knock.

For good measure, Toronto tacked on one more in the sixth on another Sninchak RBI hit. Karaffa scored after beginning the frame with a three-base error.

“I could tell in the first few innings just by the way they went into the batter’s box,” Clegg said regarding Huntington’s nervousness. “It’s a regional game, so both teams are going to have that nervousness. When both teams settled in, it was a better competition.”

HUMAN RAIN DELAY

Whenever a Red Knight reached base, McCloskey attempted to pick him off at least one time per two pitches, sometimes more. He tried slowing the game down and Toronto’s aggressiveness.

“We have to do that,” Yates said. “First of all, we knew how aggressive they are. And, a lot of teams are, especially in Division IV for some reason. That’s the way we played all year because that has to be our style because we don’t have an explosive offense. We normally struggle scoring five runs.”

The Red Knights only scored twice in the first three innings, so maybe it worked to a degree.

“You can obviously tell it’s a very well-coached team. They were trying to do some things just to get to us with timeouts and different things, but we knew that going in,” Perkins said. “I think our kids were prepared, and it didn’t bother us at all. But, that’s kudos to them, and our kids responded well.”

CONTRIBUTIONS EVERYWHERE

All but one Red Knight tallied at least one hit, with Thomas contributing two. Out of those eight, five recorded at least one RBI.

“One thing about this team is it’s about everybody. It’s not one individual,” Perkins said. “There could be a different group on any given day that lifts the team up, and that’s what’s special about this team.

“(Today) could be a different situation. It’s a team that’s really come together, and they’re having a special season.”

UP NEXT

Huntington: Season concludes.

Toronto: Will face Newark Catholic for the regional title at 5 p.m. today. Newark Catholic defeated Racine Southern, 12-6, earlier on Thursday. It scored five runs in the first and six more in the second.

“Newark Catholic has a great tradition,” Perkins said. “They have a hall of fame coach. They’re always well-coached and will be prepared. We played them down here several times and look forward to a very good game.”

Toronto 8, Huntington 0

H: 0-0-0 0-0-0 0–0-4-5

T: 2-0-0 3-2-1 x –8-9-0

HUNTINGTON (13-15): McCloskey (lp, 3 1/3IP, 5R (3ER), 5H, 3BB, 5K); Free (1 2/3IP, 2R, 3H, 2BB, 1K); Roop (1IP, 1R (0ER), 1H, 0BB, 1K) and Snyder.

TORONTO (24-5): Clegg (wp, 6IP, 0R, 3H, 2BB, 9K); Leasure (1IP, 0R, 1H, 1BB, 1K) and Thomas.

TWO OR MORE HITS: Huntington none; Toronto (Thomas 2). DOUBLES: Huntington none; Toronto 1 (Herrick). TRIPLES: none. HOME RUNS: none. RBIs: Huntington none; Toronto (Chetock, Gulczynski, Karaffa, Sninchak 2, Matyas).

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