The Brunswick and Mentor baseball teams need no introductions for their Louisville Division I Regional semifinal.
The 5 p.m. showdown today at Andy Aljancic Field is a rematch of a 2013 Canton Regional semifinal, when current Chicago White Sox farmhand Kade McClure outdueled the Blue Devils’ Gerry Salisbury 6-3. The winner will advance to face Walsh Jesuit (25-3) or Massillon Jackson (26-3) on Friday.
Analysis of history shows the competitiveness. Brunswick (17-12) has won 7-of-12 meetings since that sunny day at Thurman Munson Stadium, but 10 games have been decided by three or fewer runs.
With both teams led by pitching and defense, another low-scoring thriller appears likely.
“It’s crazy. I’m not really used to this, because usually we’re done with baseball by the time school’s out,” three-year starting center fielder Derek Kutrubs said. “We’re just trying to stay in it, stay focused, getting good reps here (at practice) so we can take it into (the game).”
The three-time defending district champion Cardinals (20-5) finished second in the Greater Cleveland Conference to Solon — Brunswick tied for fourth — due in large part to an impressive 8-0 Blue Devils victory on May 10, when Cooper Fox allowed only four hits over five innings and Scott Rouse and Kyle Goessler drove in two runs apiece.
Mentor, which lost to Highland 3-1 in the Sweet 16 last season, is led by two-time All-GCC pitcher Justin Wilson (5-0, 1.44 ERA), a left-hander with a career ERA below 2.00, and Penn State recruit Chad Rogers (3-1, 2.72), who returned April 18 from Tommy John surgery. Third baseman Matt Sabin, shortstop Andrew Witte and pitcher Charlie Hawley joined Wilson on the All-GCC first team, while catcher Eric Coode and reliever John Poppy were honorable mention.
The Cardinals have outscored opponents 33-6 and committed only three errors during their six-game winning streak. They have just one home run this season — launched by Noah Gladish on Tuesday — but sport a .393 on-base percentage with 92 stolen bases.
“Mentor’s a great pitching team,” Blue Devils first baseman Mike Williams said. “Basically it’s going to come down to pitching and defense.”
Brunswick has outscored opponents 30-16 during its six-game winning streak and features a pair of hot pitchers in Rouse (4-3, 2.25) and fellow right-hander Noah Herron (2-3, 2.52). Rouse allowed one earned run and struck out nine over six innings in a district semifinal upset of Wadsworth, while Herron spun a four-hitter with six punchouts two days later against Firestone.
Like Mentor, the Blue Devils don’t have a high-powered offense — they average 4.6 runs with a .283 batting average and .359 on-base percentage — but have utilized depth to manufacture timely runs. The magic total has been five, as Brunswick is an impressive 13-2 when it reaches that figure this season.
Clutch shortstop Goessler (3.29, 8 doubles, 15 RBIs, 15 runs) and four-year starter Williams (.333, 7 doubles, 4 home runs, 20 RBIs, 22 runs, 24 walks) lead from the top. Catcher Josh Kross (.286, 16 RBIs), third baseman Michael McFadden (.313, 14 RBIs, 15 walks) and outfielders Jacob Dye (.279, 15 runs), Jacob Scherette (.319, 13 runs), Derek Kutrubs (.200) and Rouse (.276, 13 runs) follow — one usually is the designated hitter — while second baseman Kyle Kuchta (.216, 15 runs) rounds out the lineup.
“What we found with this group is they didn’t want to stop playing,” coach Grant Relic said. “They’re having fun together, they’re all getting along. If it was up to them, they’d rather be at the ball field than break away into their summer teams. It’s nice still seeing these guys together.”
Brunswick repeatedly has referred to a May 5 doubleheader at Dublin Coffman as the turning point. The Blue Devils split with the Shamrocks but bonded immensely in the Columbus suburb and rallied around the passing of former pitcher Josh Herron, brother of Noah Herron.
Brunswick is 8-2 since, having firmly entrenched its place as one of the most successful postseason teams in the school’s rich history.
“What we talked about all year was if we had good senior leadership, which we thought we would, it was going to take a little time for the young guys to catch on and buy into some things,” Relic said. “We saw that with the growing pains we had in the middle of the season, losing 8-of-10 games, but when I started talking about sticking with it and getting hot at the right time, it was the seniors who really reiterated that exact same comment.”