Badgers One Tough Team to Beat
June 3, 2021 by Rich Kelly

The Berkshire Badgers made one big play after another to stymie a solid Youngstown Cardinal Mooney team, 1-0, in the district title game May 27 at Bob Cene Park in Struthers.

One” is the title a big hit song by Three Dog Night in the early 70s.

The Berkshire Badgers made one big play after another to stymie a solid Youngstown Cardinal Mooney team, 1-0, in the district title game May 27 at Bob Cene Park in Struthers.

It was the same score the Badgers used earlier in the week in dispatching West Springfield, and in a season of many close games for the Badgers — just one run on one spectacular play that went Berkshire’s way.

Coupled with many other single defensive plays that resulted in an errorless game, one run by sophomore Max Janssen with senior Jake Brown on the hill was all that was needed to claim the win.

“I thought we did a great job of coming out in a hostile environment here today,” Berkshire coach Nick Burzanko said. “Our plan was to get Max through their lineup twice and then go to Jake to finish off on the mound. This was Max’s first big start in his career, and that’s a lot of pressure to put on a sophomore, but he pitched well all the way by using his curveball and hitting spots when he had to.”

“My curveball was really working well for me today,” Janssen said. “I just tried to throw strikes and rely on the guys behind me. They made a lot of great plays.”

In a game when both teams had scoring opportunities but were unable to cash in due to superb defensive plays, the Badgers scored the only run of the game in the fourth inning on the one big play that Mooney (17-9) was unable to make.

Evan McDermott led off with a walk from the offerings of James Campbell. A wild pitch sent McDermott to second base, and on a 2-0 pitch to the next hitter, Chris Groudle, a high chopper was sent toward third base.

As the third baseman moved in to field the ball, McDermott waited until he fired the ball toward first base. That left the third base bag wide open, and McDermott was off to the races, through he didn’t really see it happening at breakneck speed.

“When I took off, I felt I was really going slow,” he said.

He did, however, get a good head start on the shortstop, who was moving to cover third base as the out was made on Groudle at first.

The return throw from first base went to an open space in foul territory in short left field, and McDermott made a hasty dash to home plate, with a wide slide from the outside of the baseline getting him home safely for that one run.

“I didn’t think I was moving that fast,” he said. “It all happened so quickly, and when I saw the guy with the ball at the plate, I just tried to hit the plate before getting tagged out.”

McDermott made it safely, and Janssen and Brown took care of things on the mound.

A highlight diving catch by Blake Jenkins in centerfield for the third out in the bottom of the third snuffed out one of only a couple of threats from the Cardinals.

The Badgers had scoring chances of their own as they left seven on base in the game. They had two on in the first, but a runner was cut down going to third on a passed ball that Youngstown State bound catcher Ian Francis corralled and fired a seed to nail the runner.

Brown had set it up with a single to right-center, but the out at third and a strikeout ended that threat.

The Badgers loaded the bases in the third, too, as Campbell snapped off a monstrous hook to Jenkins for the third out.

Mooney had threatened early as they hit the ball hard, but fortunately for Berkshire, right at Brown at shortstop. He fired bullets to first for two outs, and did it again in the second as well.

In playing an errorless game, the third inning finally saw a spark from Mooney.

Nico Mascarella led off with the team’s first hit, and Zack Hryb put down a sweet bunt in front of home plate. The throw to first was late, and with leadoff hitter Jordan Sheehan at the plate, a passed ball put runners at second and third with nobody out. Sheehan was retired on a fly ball to short center, and Janssen fanned the next hitter, but Ethan Shaw, Mooney’s answer at shortstop to Brown, sent a soft liner toward the hole in right center.

Using the speed Jenkins showed he had as a wide receiver during the football season for a successful Berkshire team, he raced toward where he felt the ball was going, dived for the ball at the last second, and earned a spot on any ESPN highlight film.

“I knew the ball was dropping because the wind was just starting to pick up a bit in the outfield,” Jenkins said. “If I didn’t make that catch, they might well score two runs and beat us.”

Groudle also made three big plays at second base in fielding the ball, one at a time over three straight innings, that stopped any momentum Mooney might try to build to get back in the game. Each came up huge.

“I had to deal with some funny hops off of the lip of the infield grass. I was still able to knock the ball down and make the plays, though.”

After McDermott’s mad dash to score in the fourth, Mooney attempted to answer in their half of the frame. Francis walked leading off, and was sacrificed to second on the first-out bunt. Mickey Velazquez send a single to left, but Francis, in an apparent delayed steal, was thrown out at home after an infield popup was snared by Brown for the second out. Francis took off on a 1-1 pitch to Mascarella as the ball briefly got loose from catcher Garrett Bosse, but he recovered in one fell swoop around the ball and protected the plate with everything he was wearing for the out.

Mooney had only one more baserunner the rest of the way, as Janssen was sharp and Brown entered in the bottom of the sixth to retire all six hitters he faced.

“I think we had something like seven one-run games this season,” Burzanko said. “Like I told the guys after the game, I’d like to score more often, but I’ll ride with them any time in one-run games if we are winning.

We had three walk-off wins this season; we also had three walk-off losses, but these kids never let up at any time. They’re battle tested, so I’m very happy with how things are going. I was part of two district title teams, in 2006 and 2007, so this is kind of bittersweet for me, but it’s a lot of fun on the winning side now.”

The Badgers play June 3 at 2 p.m. in Massillon in regional competition. As they continue to make big plays one at a time, with an 18-11 record on the season, there are no limits to where this team can go.