Cardinal Stritch player Adam Buenrostro (8) makes a backhanded play on a Toledo Christian hit. THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
Cardinal Stritch was picked in the preseason to win the Toledo Area Athletic Conference baseball championship.
Now midway through the conference schedule, the Cardinals’ backs were against the wall heading into Thursday night’s game at Toledo Christian, which had blanked the Cards in their first TAAC meeting.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view more photos
Thanks to some hot bats, and the capable pitching of lefties Chase Dearing and Sean Killian, Stritch stayed in the conference race with a 7-4 victory over the Eagles.
The Cardinals (10-5, 4-2 TAAC) banged out 14 hits, and built an early 5-0 lead before holding on late against Toledo Christian (12-5, 4-2). Both teams trail Northwood (5-9, 3-1) in the standings, with TC scheduled to face the first-place Rangers today.
“We’re hitting the ball better right now,” Stritch coach Craig Meinzer said. “We finally had some time to practice, and we’ve been working on some things with situational hitting and going the other way, and that helped today.”
Stritch got started early, with Jake Empie (2-for-4) hammering a triple to center field in the first inning and scoring on a single by Paul Drake (2-for-3) for a 1-0 lead.
The Cards added four runs on five hits off of Eagles starter Judd Nearhood in the second inning.
Austin Pratt and Dearing opened that frame with singles, and Brooks Gasser (2-for-4) and Adam Buenrostro (2-for-4) each followed with RBI singles.
After Robert Johnson hit a sacrifice fly to plate Gasser, Empie drove Buenrostro home with a single for a 5-0 lead.
“We came off a loss to these guys last time, and I think that just made us want to come out and hit the heck out of the ball,” Empie said. “We sure did that. We took advantage of our hitting. We got our signs right, and it just went well. We couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Dearing, who worked the first 4 1/3 innings to earn the win, kept TC scoreless for three innings until the Eagles got a double from Jordan Adesi and and RBI single from Caleb Andrews in the fourth.
The Eagles chased Dearing (three hits, three walks) in the fifth after he walked Wesley Wilson and Andrew Gast to start the inning. Both later scored to make it 5-3, Wilson on Taylor Weghorst’s groundout to second, and Gast on Kody Brown’s fielder’s-choice grounder to short.
The Cardinals added insurance runs off TC reliever Gast in the sixth and seventh innings.
Empie reached on an error and later scored on Grant Curavo’s two-out bunt single in the sixth, and Killian tripled to lead off the seventh and scored on Buenrstro’s groundout.
Killian allowed only one hit in his 2 2/3 innings of relief, a leadoff double by Gast opening the seventh. Gast scored on Drake’s two-out error at shortstop. Adesi reached when Stritch center fielder Johnson dropped his fly ball, but Adesi was then thrown out at second to end the game.
“They did a nice job putting it where we weren’t,” Eagles coach Tab Greenlee said.
“We’re a good team, but we got beat by a better team today. Their pitchers did exactly what their coach wanted them to do. We told our guys to come out swinging and hit the fastball, but they were just too hesitant today.”