CANTON — A lot has changed since May 2.
On that Thursday afternoon in Brunswick, Mentor’s baseball team won 3-1 in Northeast Ohio Conference River Division play. The Blue Devils managed seven hits against St. Bonaventure recruit Danny Trimble, but a lack of clutch hitting and two unearned runs were their undoing as Kyle Michalik lost for the only time this season.
After that, Brunswick clawed back into contention and shared the River Division title with the Cardinals, Medina and Strongsville. The Blue Devils haven’t slowed down, either, winning nine of their last 11 since that heartbreaking loss.
Today at 5 p.m. is the rubber game between Brunswick (21-9) and Mentor (22-5) in the Canton Division I Regional semifinals at Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium. The winner will battle Aurora (26-4) or North Canton Hoover (22-7) on Friday.
“We’ve always wanted to be here,” Blue Devils pitcher/first baseman Gerry Salisbury said. “We struggled in the district championship game two straight years and now we’ve finally got (a title), so we’re excited and ready to go.”
Brunswick has reached this stage with a lunch-pail attitude while wearing alternate jerseys in honor of late cheerleader Cora Flemming. It crushed Cloverleaf 10-0, clipped 22-win Wadsworth 4-2, handled Twinsburg 7-1 and stunned NOC River Division champion Hudson 3-0 for the Hudson District title.
The left-handed Salisbury (5-3, 1.93 ERA) will get the start. Shortstop Michalik (.379, 27 runs), catcher Brian Lees (Akron recruit, .330, 24 RBIs, 26 runs), second baseman Kyle Burson (.337, .479 on-base percentage), third baseman Corey Welsh (.337, 16 RBIs) and outfielder Ryan Kuntz (.350, 9 stolen bases) are other key players.
Division I recruits Salisbury (Ohio) and Michalik (Ohio State) have combined to post a 0.27 ERA in 26 postseason innings. Offensively, nine different players have scored during that span, and eight hit .300 or better overall.
“It’s more of a mindset,” said first baseman/designated hitter Kyle Wheeler, an Akron basketball recruit who is 5-for-11 with three RBIs in the postseason. “It’s a mindset of what we have to do individually to make sure we do well as a team.”
The Cardinals counter with elite starting pitching of their own in Trimble and 6-foot-6 Louisville recruit Kade McClure, who the Blue Devils are expecting to get the start.
A member of the state semifinalist football team and state champion basketball team, McClure (9-1, 0.85 ERA) allowed three hits — all doubles — in a 2-1 win over Brunswick on April 23. He has struck out 76 in 64⅔ innings and is very similar to Michalik with an upper-80s fastball and late-moving slider.
“He likes to throw a lot of first-pitch fastballs, so obviously we don’t want to get down in the count because his off-speed is so good,” Wheeler said. “He’s around the plate. We have to get on him early.”
Even if Mentor elects to save McClure, it can roll out 7-0 Trimble, normally the starting catcher, and his 0.31 ERA. Shortstop/closer Corey Plavcan leads the offense with a .422 average and 29 RBIs while receiving support from third baseman Caleb Potter (.352), center fielder Albert Giebel (.333) and first baseman Sam Vilk (.329, 20 RBIs).
It’s clear why Brunswick and Mentor are so similar. Both feature a pair of pitchers headed to D-I colleges, strong defenses and balanced offenses without a big bopper.
Another low-scoring classic is likely.
“We didn’t swing the bats well in the first two games,” Wheeler said. “We had a lot of opportunities in the second game at home that we wished we could have worked out, but we didn’t.
“We’re ready to get another shot at them.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.