BRUNSWICK — Zach Gresch called it the best pitching performance of his life. Brandon Kutrubs didn’t have to call it his biggest hit of the year because it was his first of the season.
Combine the two and Brunswick’s baseball team emerged with a 1-0 victory over Lorain on Wednesday in a Strongsville Division I Sectional championship.
The fourth-seeded Blue Devils (11-7) will play the North Olmsted-Elyria winner in district semifinal action Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at Strongsville.
“It was my best game ever,” said a smiling Gresch, who gave up just two hits and two walks while striking out six to improve to 3-4. “It feels great. I have to thank my defense. They did a phenomenal job behind me.”
Brunswick got just four singles — there were no extra-base hits by either team — off Titans starter Andrew Coon (2-2), the two biggest coming in the bottom of the seventh, when the Blue Devils scored the lone run of a game that took just 1 hour, 15 minutes.
No. 5 hitter Tyler Greiner began the seventh with a single up the middle, setting the stage for the biggest play of the day.
Attempting to sacrifice, Brian Cox bunted back to the mound. Coon had Greiner dead to rights at second, but seemed to lose his balance a bit, then rushed and threw the ball into center field.
“That’s a play players have to read,” Lorain coach Brad Ternes said. “You have to react to it. As a coach, you definitely want to get an out as opposed to what we did, but I’m not upset at the kids for making the call (to throw to second), because a good throw would have gotten him.”
With runners on first and second and no outs, Anthony Bova then missed badly on two sacrifice bunt attempts before grounding to third, where Greiner was forced out.
Brunswick coach Todd Winston then elected to have Kutrubs, who had two at-bats all season, pinch-hit for designated hitter Jesse Elias. Kutrubs promptly raised his average from .000 to .333 with a sharp single between short and third, with Cox barely beating the throw of left fielder Nick Billingsley to end the game.
“There’s no better feeling than a walk-off hit,” Kutrubs said. “That’s why you play the game.”
Until that point, it looked like Gresch and Coon, both left-handers, might pitch scoreless ball all day.
Coon struck out just one and walked two, but he kept Brunswick hitters off-balance until the seventh. Justin Arthur started the bottom of the first with an opposite-field single on an 0-2 pitch, but the Blue Devils’ only other hit until the last inning was a bunt single by Bova.
Gresch was even better, using his fastball and curveball to record 21 outs on just 72 pitches.
“That was a true pitching matchup,” Winston said. “If you don’t like pitching, you couldn’t have liked that game.”
Lorain got just one runner to second base, that coming when Ryan Osko walked to start the game and moved up on a fielder’s choice that resulted in the second out of the inning. Gresch then got cleanup hitter Billingsley on a grounder to short.
The Titans never again put their leadoff man on and didn’t collect their first hit until Collin Bryant singled with one out in the fifth.
“I could tell early on I had good stuff,” Gresch said. “Throwing strikes really helps me. I was very confident in my team. I knew they’d come through in the end.”
The Blue Devils finally broke through in the seventh, with Kutrubs — he hit over .400 last season but has rarely batted this season due to a sore neck and the fact he’s Brunswick’s No. 2 pitcher — delivering the game-winner.
“It wasn’t a fluke where we were just grabbing some guy off the bench,” Winston said. “He’s been swinging it well in practice and he’s the type of kid who wants to be up there.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.