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BOWLING GREEN — In the unofficial championship of northwest Ohio baseball for 2013, St. Francis de Sales took area bragging rights in a battle of state-ranked teams Friday with a 10-5 victory over Perrysburg in a Division I regional semifinal at Stellar Field.
The fourth-ranked Knights (29-2) used four-run rallies in the third and sixth innings, each time with two outs, and rolled to a spot in Saturday’s regional final.
“The two-out hits we got were key,” Knights coach Tim Gerken said. “We’ve had a lot of two-out rallies this season, and we’re at the point in the year where nothing surprises you. You just try to keep grinding away.”
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St. Francis will play 17th-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius (25-6) at 5 p.m today at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. St. Ignatius advanced by beating Avon Lake 3-2 in a semifinal at Case Western.
Fifth-ranked Perrysburg, champion of the Northern Lakes League, bows out at 27-4. The Yellow Jackets were D-I state runners-up in 2011.
St. Francis got RBIs in the third inning on a triple from Miccoy Drzewiecki, a double from winning pitcher Max Lyon, and a single from Andy Okuley, chasing Jackets starting pitcher Nick Munger.
After a 30-minute lightning delay with two outs in the sixth inning, the Knights got a two-run single from Eric Zmuda, and a two-run double from Cody Lewis off Jackets reliever A.J. Stockwell to up their lead to 9-1.
St. Francis had jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning.
After Eric Zmuda drew a leadoff walk, he scored on twin brother Matt Zmuda’s one-out double, which one-hopped the fence in left-center field.
That rally hinged on a key close call.
With one out, Munger hit Eric Zmuda with a pitch, and Matt Zmuda reached base on a two-out infield single, barely beating out a throw from Jackets third baseman Mark Delas, who had dived to snag the ground ball.
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That close call in favor of St. Francis proved crucial, as the Knights capitalized by using some aggressive base running.
“We struggled the past couple games with the offense early, so we wanted to come out and throw that first punch, and we got it,” Matt Zmuda said. “Beating out that [single] at first, I wanted to give it my all to get that inning going.
“After that it kind of trickled down through the rest of the lineup. That was a good inning. We take pride in our two-out hitting.”
After Eric Zmuda stole third base, he and brother Matt executed a delayed double steal to make it 2-0.
Drzewiecki followed with an RBI triple to center and scored on Lyon’s double down the left-field line. Okuley (3-for-4) capped the rally with a hit-and-run RBI single to right for a 5-0 Knights lead.
“We short-circuited,” Perrysburg coach Dave Hall said. “We should’ve had them on the first-and-third [Zmuda double steal]. We practice that from the first day in February. If we make one play there, maybe it’s 1-1 or 2-1 that inning.
“That was not characteristic of us, and that put a damper on things real quick. It’s hard to beat that team when you spot them four runs.”
Perrysburg got on the board in the bottom of the third with some help from the St. Francis defense.
Nick Flemming led off with a single to left, and moved up on Austin Lee’s one-out infield single. Steve Slocum then chopped a grounder to the left side. Knights third baseman Nick Lankard’s error loaded the bases.
Zach Honsberger followed with a come-backer to Lyon on the mound. Instead of throwing home for a force out, the St. Francis pitcher threw to first to record the second out, allowing Flemming to score.
When the game was resumed after the lightning delay, Perrysburg relief pitcher A.J. Stockwell had a chance to snuff out the Knights’ second big rally.
But he walked Joey White to load the bases, Eric Zmuda lined a two-run single to center, and Lewis followed with a two-run double to left for a commanding 9-1 St. Francis lead.
The Knights added their final run in the seventh when Lyon (3-for-4) tripled to right and scored on Okuley’s infield single.
Lyon worked the first five innings, allowing four hits and striking out five batters.
“We hadn’t hit the ball well in the last couple games, so it felt great to come out and score some runs,” Lyon said. “I just tried to come out and do what I usually do, which is not make the game bigger than it really was. I tried to throw strikes and keep them off balance.
“Coming off that loss to Central [in Tuesday’s TRAC championship game], we had a little more fight. It’s going to be awesome going to the regional final. It should be a great experience.”
Perrysburg used four singles, a walk, and an error to rally for four runs off Knight relievers Kenzie Mayo, Jake Lang, and Michael Wagner before Wagner got the final out.
The Knights will be playing for the school’s fourth trip to the state final four, having lost in the semifinals to the eventual state champion in 1972, 1974, and 1999.