Evan Beacher’s third-inning RBI single was the difference in No. 6 Independence’s 2-1 upset win over No. 2 Akron Manchester in a Division III district semifinal at Cuyahoga Community College’s West Campus on Monday.
Manchester took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, but the Blue Devils answered with a run in the second and Beacher’s go-ahead run in the third.
“We knew we were going to be facing one of the best pitchers in our district, and we had a game plan at the plate and on the mound,” said Independence coach Jim Crooks. “We worked the plan and their guy threw well, but we were just a little bit better today.”
Manchester pitcher Owen Canter, a Walsh University recruit, entered the game 6-1 with a 0.13 earned run average and 96 strikeouts in 53 innings.
The Blue Devils mustered seven hits and struck out just five times in the game.
“This matchup was extremely intense,” Beacher said. “We knew that coming into this game every inning was going to affect the outcome of the game. This exhilarating game will definitely propel us with momentum into the district final on Wednesday.”
A controversial balk call gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning.
With one down, a Manchester batter was hit by a pitch and advanced to third on a pair of stolen bases.
The balk call gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
That lead was short-lived as Rory Corrigan, Dom Narduzzi, and Luke Pascarella each singled to start the Independence second and Narduzzi scored on a wild pitch that evened the score, 1-1.
“You have to respond when the other team goes up by a run,” Crooks said. “In our two tournament games so far, we’ve had to do it in both games, offensively and defensively. We talk about winning innings, and we came back and won two innings after that first inning. I’m proud of how they battled back against a well-coached team and pitcher.”
Max Tarnowski hit a one-out single in the third and scored on Beacher’s RBI single.
“I knew going into that at-bat that it was an important one,” Beacher said. “I use an approach of saying, yes, yes, yes,’ in my head while at the plate. I knew I had to put the ball in play and I was able to execute the go-ahead RBI single.”
Independence pitchers allowed just five baserunners in the final six innings and the Blue Devils turned three double plays to protect their one-run lead.
“This was probably our best defensive performance of the season,” Crooks said. “We had three double plays and some big outs to end innings.”
The Panthers posted their leadoff batter at first base in both the second and third innings, but double plays ended those threats. Manchester’s first two batters singled in the sixth, but Independence turned its third double play of the game and a groundout ended the inning.
Sam Crooks started on the mound for the Blue Devils and lasted 2 2/3 innings before giving way to winning pitcher Cy Jolliffe, who threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings.
Crooks allowed one run on one hit and struck out two. Jolliffe allowed two hits and struck out four.
“Defense wins championships, and I believe that we depicted that in the game,” Beacher said. “This team is extremely locked in right now and we are just taking it one game at a time. I believe we are playing our best baseball right now and we just have to keep taking each game one at a time.”
Pascarella led the Blue Devils at the plate as he finished the game 2-for-3. Max Tarnowski and Jolliffe also had hits for the Blue Devils, who will play top-seeded Triway for the district championship on Wednesday at 5:00 p.m.
“I think our guys going into this game feel like we can beat anybody right now,” Coach Crooks said. “That’s a great place to be at this time of the season.”