BEACHWOOD—One day after Independence clinched a share of the Chagrin Valley Conference Metro Division title with an eight-inning 1-0 win over Beachwood, the Blue Devils won the title outright by beating that same Bison squad on Tuesday, 8-0.
With the win, the Blue Devils improved to 11-4 overall and 9-2 in league play with one conference game remaining. Beachwood dropped to 13-6, 8-4.
“I’m happy for these guys,” said Independence coach Jim Crooks. “It was our goal from the beginning of the season to win our conference and, in a sense, these guys acted like we’ve been here before. We knew it was going to be a dogfight all year long and they executed today. It was an awesome victory against a very good team.”
The conference title is the first for the Blue Devils since 2014 and it didn’t come easily.
Casey McGhee pitched eight scoreless innings and delivered the walk-off RBI single to beat the Bison on Monday, 1-0. Ashton Lerz followed that up with a three-hit shutout of the Bison in the series finale.
Lerz struck out 10 and issued just one walk.
“They just stayed focused,” Crooks said of his pitching duo. “They hit their spots and moved pitches around against a good hitting team. That’s what you have to do against a good hitting team and that’s what you have to do to be successful. It came down to execution and both Casey and Lerz did that.”
With Lerz keeping the Bison hitters off the base paths, Independence’s hitters made the necessary adjustments and struck for seven runs in the top of the fourth inning.
Connor Blum, Lerz, and Rory Corrigan started the rally with back-to-back-to-back singles and after a strikeout, the Blue Devils strung together five more base hits.
Matt Richards, Cy Jolliffe, Charlie McGreal, Mike Andryszczyk, and McGhee all put barrel to bat in the inning. Lerz added a second single but Blum was thrown out trying to advance to third on the play.
“We make energy a factor,” Crooks said. “That’s an important factor for this team. Once we string together a couple of hits, the energy uplifts on the bench. It just gets to be contagious and the hits get strung together and the energy keeps flowing. It’s a factor for this team and it’s going to be a factor for us in the postseason for sure.”
McGhee reached on a fielder’s choice and scored on an error in the sixth to close out the scoring.