NORTON — After catcher Josh Kross settled under a foul ball for the final out, pitcher Noah Herron smacked his glove and hip-bumped third baseman Michael McFadden in celebration.
Seconds later, the right-hander was mobbed by his Brunswick baseball teammates in front of the pitcher’s mound. There was no doubt who the Blue Devils wanted to congratulate.
Eighteen days after his older brother Josh passed away from cancer, Herron pitched the game of his career Thursday to lead fourth-seeded Brunswick to a cleanly played 5-0 victory over No. 6 Firestone in the Barberton Division I District championship.
The Blue Devils (17-12), who won their fifth district title since re-instituting the sport in 1968, advanced to play Mentor (19-5) at 2 p.m. Thursday in a Louisville Regional semifinal. The schools split Greater Cleveland Conference games.
“It’s been crazy, a lot of baseball, a lot of fun moments,” Herron said. “Wins are always awesome. Baseball has definitely helped keep me distracted from everything that’s going on in my life. It feels really good to come out here and have fun.
“The game means a lot to me, and it means more now that Josh is gone. He can’t play for himself, he can’t coach for himself. He loved the game more than I did, and I feel good trying to make him proud.”
Herron allowed four hits, walked three, hit a batter and struck out six on 102 pitches. He also stranded two runners apiece in the first and sixth innings and relied on great infield defense from Kross, McFadden, shortstop Kyle Goessler, second baseman Kyle Kuchta and first baseman Mike Williams.
Beginning the season as the No. 2 starter behind Scott Rouse, the right-hander had pitched sparingly since his brother’s passing. In a matter of three days, he picked up the save in a 3-2 upset of top-seeded Wadsworth and stymied the Akron City Series champion Falcons (22-9), who had stunned third-seeded Wooster and second-seeded Medina, with a complete game.
Baseball has been an escape for Herron, who improved to 2-3 and lowered his ERA to 2.52 this season, and he was a young man on a mission Thursday.
“(My emotions) are pretty high right now,” Herron said. “We’ve had a pretty tough season with about a .500 record, but now that we’re making this run, it feels very good. We haven’t won a district championship since 2013 and before that 2000, so it’s a pretty big deal. I’ve watched my friends lose games on this (Hal Naragon) field, so it’s a big deal to me.”
In what has been their calling card over the last 10 games — the average score has been 5.3-2.6 — the Blue Devils played a clean, fundamentally sound game centered around pitching, defense and situational hitting. They took control 4-0 with a three-run third inning and added insurance in the fifth.
All nine hitters reached base or moved a runner, led by RBI singles from 105-game veteran Williams and three-year starter Derek Kutrubs. Jacob Scherette and Kuchta executed sacrifice bunts, Jacob Dye drove in a run on a sacrifice fly, Michael McFadden added an RBI groundout and Goessler stole two bases.
A classic case of quality at-bats led to deep counts, chasing City Series Player of the Year Max Erisey and his sweeping curveball after 3⅓ innings. Stevie Johnston was solid in relief, but the damage was done.
“We’ve bought into everything and we’ve worked out butts off the last couple weeks,” Williams said.
Brunswick 5, Firestone 0
Barberton Division I District Final
FIRESTONE 000 000 0 — 0 4 1
BRUNSWICK 013 010 x — 5 6 0
WP — Noah Herron (2-3) 7 innings, 3 walks, hit by pitch, 6 strikeouts. LP — Max Erisey 3⅓ innings, 4 runs, 4 earned, 5 hits, 3 walks, hit by pitch, strikeout. Firestone (22-9). Brunswick (17-12) — Kyle Goessler single, hit by pitch, 2 stolen bases, run; Mike Williams single, RBI, run; Michael McFadden single, RBI, run; Jacob Dye single, sacrifice fly, walk RBI, run; Derek Kutrubs single, RBI.