Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Berkshire edges Mooney for district title

According to Three Dog Night, a 1960s-era rock band, one is a lonely number.

But, it’s been a magic number for the Berkshire Badgers, who eked out a 1-0 win over Cardinal Mooney in the Division III Struthers District championship game on Thursday. It was Berkshire’s second straight 1-0 win in the district tournament.

“It’s really nice,” said Berkshire coach Nick Burzanko. “We’ve had I think it was seven games or six games in the month of May decided by one run and we’ve been on the positive side of that more times than not. That’s battle-tested baseball right there by a team. We won three times on walk-offs and lost three times on a walk-off, so we know that feeling. We know what we’re capable of and the guys just come out and battle and play good defense behind our pitching staff. Sometimes you’ve just got to scrum up one run and hope for the best.”

Berkshire is now 6-1 during the month of May in games decided by one run or less.

That run came in the fourth inning when Evan McDermott drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on a passed ball.

McDermott has been playing through a strained hamstring, which forced Burzanko to make a difficult decision. He could insert a pinch-runner and risk losing his designated hitter with another substitution or stick with McDermott and hope for a gap shot to score him.

Burzanko opted to stick with McDermott and it paid off as the senior scored from second on Chris Groudle’s groundout and an errant throw to third.

“We just went with it and he was able to move up on a passed ball and then he made a good read on a ground ball in no-man’s land,” Burzanko said. “He was coming to third and the first baseman made an errant throw and sometimes you have to send guys. Just like in the district semifinal game, you just got to send guys and give them a chance. He was able to slide under the tag and get us that one run that we needed to win the ballgame.”

McDermott’s run would be all the Badgers needed as sophomore Max Janssen shut down the Mooney hitters for five innings and Jake Brown closed out the game with two scoreless innings of work.

Janssen, who allowed just three hits and struck out three in his first postseason start, pitched out of several jams.

Mooney had runners on second and third with no outs in the third but a fly out, strike out, and a diving catch by Blake Jenkins in the gap between center and right field ended that threat.

“He’s a gap-to-gap kid and he’s not afraid to put his body on the line, especially when the game is on the line,” Burzanko said of Jenkins. “That’s something that lets you relax a lot. A fly ball hit his way, or even close to him, you trust Blake Jenkins to run it down and make a play for you. I’m glad he’s on our team.”

A leadoff walk, sacrifice bunt, and a single in the fourth put runners at second and third again for the Cardinals, but Brown caught a pop fly behind second base for the second out and the Badgers caught a runner trying to steal home to end the inning.

Janssen then walked the first batter in the fifth but retired the next three to keep Berkshire’s 1-0 lead intact.

Brown struck out three of the six hitters he faced in his two scoreless innings of work.

“We came into today thinking getting Max through one or two times through the lineup and then go to Jake Brown,” Burzanko said. “Max came out and worked his butt off. For a sophomore to do that in the first big, big start of his career, hats off to that kid. He worked really, really hard in some tough situations too. We got into some situations with second and third and nobody out and to be able to battle his way out of those and not give up a single run, that’s a testament to his work ethic on the mound.”

With their district title in hand, the Badgers will head to Massillon on Thursday for a 2:00 p.m. regional semifinal game against Canton Central Catholic.

Berkshire is now 5-2 in district championship games since the 2005 season.

Steve Hare
Steve Hare
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes, an online publication dedicated to providing hyperlocal coverage to area high school athletic programs. Hare began covering high school sports for the Lake County News Herald in 1997. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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