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    Chagrin Falls upsets Kirtland in sectional championship game

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    KIRTLAND—Fifth-seeded Chagrin Falls pulled off a minor upset with its 5-3 win at No. 3 Kirtland in a Division III sectional championship game on Wednesday.

    With the win, the Tigers advanced to the district semifinals for the fifth consecutive season.

    “We talked about it before the game; if we can get four or five runs, we’d be in pretty good shape,” said Chagrin Falls coach Mike Sweeney. “We had faith in our pitchers. We knew if we could get some runs early and get on top, we knew (Kirtland) was going to press a little bit. Getting those big hits was tremendous.”

    The Tigers struck first with one run in the top of the second.

    Sven Nielsen and Finn Johnson hit back-to-back two-out singles and Oliver Tepper followed with an RBI single.

    Kirtland quickly tied the game in the bottom of the inning when Gino Blasini and Jack Turk drew back-to-back walks and Carter Luzar singled home Blasini.

    A three-run third gave the Tigers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

    Will Murray drew a leadoff walk and scored on Charlie Reeder’s two-out single. Aiden Cabic singled and Nielsen delivered a clutch two-out single that pushed Chagrin Falls’ lead to 4-1.

    Kirtland loaded the bases in the bottom half of the inning but Jack Watson, who relieved Chagrin Falls starter Will Graham with two outs and the bases full of Hornets, coaxed a flyout to end the Hornet threat.

    The Hornets pulled to within 4-3 with a two-run fifth.

    Lucci Cantini drew a leadoff walk, Turk singled with two outs, and Luzar followed with a two-run double.

    The Tigers answered with an insurance run in the sixth.

    Nielsen led off the inning with a single and Johnson and Tepper walked and singled, respectively, to load the bases. Henry Cimperman’s sacrifice fly closed out the scoring.

    Watson allowed one baserunner in the final two innings.

    Nielsen led the Tigers at the plate with his 3-for-3 performance. He also scored two runs and knocked in two more.

    Reeder went 3-for-4 at the plate with an RBI and one run, and Johnson and Graham also had hits for the Tigers. Tepper and Cimperman each drove in a run.

    Graham picked up the pitching victory after allowing one run on two hits with three strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings. Watson allowed two runs on three hits and fanned one in 4 1/3 innings.

    Graham earned the start and picked up the pitching win after two ⅓ innings, allowing one run on two hits with five walks and three strikeouts.

    Watson picked up the save in four ⅓ innings of relief and gave up two runs on three hits with two walks allowed with one strikeout.

    With the win, the Tigers improved to 11-16 overall and extended their winning streak to three straight games and four of their last five.

    Chagrin Falls is 9-3 in its last 12 games.

    “We just kept believing in each other,” Sweeney said of his team’s midseason turnaround. “I kept telling the guys, ‘Good things will happen’. The coaches never stopped believing, and the players never stopped in us; it was just a team thing. We started one game, and I said, ‘I’m tired of talking about being 2-13. We’re 0-0, we’re done with the 2-13. It starts now.’ We had a good day that day, and we got another win. It just kind of kept going from there.”

    Past success always inspires the Tigers, who were determined to keep their sectional title streak alive.

    “(Making deep runs) is the tradition at Chagrin Falls,” Sweeney said. “This is what we do. This is what we all know we should do and can do. Obviously, we had a down year during the regular season, but we all believe that we can still do some great things. We’ve been to regionals for two of the last three years and lost to an eventual state champ for all three years. We’re used to playing big games and ready for it.”

    The Tigers will play Garrettsville Garfield in a district semifinal on May 20 at New Middletown Springfield. Garfield defeated Wickliffe in a sectional semifinal, 3-2.

    Luzar led the Hornet offense as he finished 2-for-3 with a double and three RBI. Tyler Turk, Jack Turk, and Xavier Lasecki also had hits.

    Blasini took the loss on the mound.

    He allowed five runs on nine hits and struck out two in five innings. Trip Thaler blanked the Tigers, allowing just one hit and fanning two in two innings of work.

    “These guys, we love them,” said Kirtland coach Luke Smrdel of his seniors. “They left it on the field. “I couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve accomplished over the last four years, and they’ve done a great job. It’s terrible to lose this way, but they all have a bright future, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do as they move on.”

    Kirtland closes out its season with a regular-season game against Madison on Friday.

    “It’s a transition; we have a young team this year,” Smrdel said. “We’ve got a lot of guys with experience, and (Friday) is just about building that confidence. We have to turn the page and start looking at what’s next.”

     

     

     

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