Tigers take home another title

NORTH ROBINSON – Just looking at the box score, Mason McWilliams appeared to have another typical strong outing on the mound.

And he did.

He struck out 12 and scattered two hits and two walks. Sixteen of the 26 batters he faced saw a first-pitch strike, but only two of the 10 who didn’t got on base.

Combined with Seneca East’s offense being opportunistic in the first inning and methodical in the fourth, that was plenty for the Tigers, who beat New Riegel 5-1 Friday for their third-consecutive Division IV district title.

But that doesn’t mean McWilliams didn’t struggle at times.

New Riegel twice had two runners on with just one out in an inning, but the senior regrouped each time to fan the next two batters to end the threats.

And the lone run he allowed was his own doing – McWilliams beaned Alex Theis, who went to third on back-to-back wild pitches before Austin Mathias drove him in with a short sac fly in the fifth.

But one of the nice things about having a pitcher of McWilliams’ caliber is how well he corrects himself, Seneca East coach Frank Lamoreaux said.

“He just needs little tweaks, and a nice part of it is, Mason knows how to fix himself. So he knows he’s off, he knows where his chest needs to be, he knows where his front foot needs to go out a little bit more, maybe a little more bend, maybe just a little more release out front,” Lamoreaux said.

“He knows how to fix himself because we talk about that stuff all the time. He’s been hammered with good coaching all his life; more than just our guys,” he said. “He’s been around baseball all his life, so he’s been around some good coaches throughout his career. He knows how to fix himself.”

He started doing that early.

After starting the game by inducing a pop up, McWilliams walked John Zoeller and gave up a single to Jake Dryfuse. He countered that threat by striking out the next two batters on a combined seven pitches.

In the third, Theis laced a leadoff double to left and went to third on a Mathias sac bunt before Zoeller drew a walk to put runners on the corners.

But again, McWilliams set down the next two batters to keep the Blue Jackets off the board.

“We had a chance, we had a guy on third, but he shut us down,” New Riegel coach Gregg Hughes said. “He’s a great pitcher, he really is.”

New Riegel did break through for a run in the fifth, but McWilliams and the Tigers also held the Blue Jackets to four 1-2-3 innings, including the final two of the game.

“There’s not too many big things that you’re going to get away with,” said McWilliams, who improved to 10-0. “You have to make as little mistakes as possible, and luckily my defense was always there behind me, playing. They always seem to be in the right position at the right time.”

It was same approach on offense.

Alex Scheiber led off the bottom of the first by reaching on an error and Ethan Caudill and McWilliams followed with singles to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead with runners on the corners.

McWilliams was then thrown out trying to steal second, but Caudill came home on a delayed steal to make it 2-0.

Ben Cramer followed with a single and later scored on Braden Nagel’s single.

In the fourth, Mike Hoy belted a one-out single and Carson Pipher beat out a bunt. Both moved up on a fielder’s choice before scoring on Caudill’s double.

“They’re very good. That’s why they’re No. 1,” Hughes said.

“The first inning, that was a killer for us,” he said. “They hit the ball, but we made a couple errors, and if we make plays, it’s a 1-0 game.”

Mathias (3-3) took the loss for the Blue Jackets (14-11), who Hughes said many didn’t expect to turn in such a turnaround season. New Riegel started 4-7, but won 10 of their next 13 games before losing Friday.

“That’s pretty good. I’m proud of them. They’ve really gotten better and stuck with it. We’re young and hopefully we’ll get back here again,” Hughes said.

“[People] didn’t expect us to be here and I think that says a lot for us, for our kids, for the way they’ve been playing,” he said.

Seneca East (24-3) moves on to play Cuyahoga Heights in Thursday’s 7 p.m. regional semifinals at the Pipe Yard in Lorain. Cuyahoga Heights nipped Willoughby Cornerstone Christian 1-0 to advance.

The Tigers seek their first trip to state. They fell in the regional semifinals last year to New Middletown Springfield and to Cuyahoga Heights in the 2012 finals. Both of those teams went on to finish second in the state.

“It’s great [to return to the regional],” McWilliams said. “Past two years have just left a bad taste in my mouth, losing both of those games that we played. Just got to make it up to them this year, got to get the next win. That’s all we’re working towards now.”