By SCOTT COTTOS
LORAIN — New Riegel’s Michael Kirian was ready to pitch in Friday night’s Division IV baseball regional semifinal game at Lorain’s Pipe Yard Stadium.
And Warren John F. Kennedy got a close look at his readiness for seven innings.
The Blue Jackets left-hander pitched a two-hitter with 16 strikeouts — including a string of nine in a row in the second through fifth innings — and drove in a run in New Riegel’s 2-0 victory.
The 13th straight victory for New Riegel, which was ranked No. 7 in the final Division IV state coaches poll, raised its record to 21-5 and resulted in a berth in today’s 5:30 p.m. regional title game back at Pipe Yard Stadium.
The Blue Jackets will look for a berth in next week’s state tournament in Columbus when they take on Dalton (15-11). The Bulldogs advanced with a 4-0 upset of Berlin Center Western Reserve (22-5) in Friday’s first semifinal.
Isaac Hadley singled to center and No. 9 hitter Niall McGee beat out a sixth-inning comebacker to Kirian to account for the lone hits for the Eagles (16-6). JFK had only five baserunners in the game.
New Riegel played in the 2015 regional at Pipe Yard Stadium but couldn’t make its way to state, as it lost in the semifinals to Western Reserve.
“We just came out here with a chip on our shoulder,” said Kirian, a 6-foot-6 left-hander who on Friday was named the state’s Division IV player of the year by the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association. “We’ve been here before. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, so we came out here with that memory kind of in mind. We just wanted to come out and play our game from the start.”
Among games started by Kirian this season, Friday’s certainly stood out to Blue Jackets coach Gregg Hughes.
“That might be the best game he’s pitched all year,” Hughes said. “Especially on this stage.”
Kirian did not walk a batter while upping his record to 8-0.
“I would definitely say this was one of my better days this year, one of the better games I’ve had,” he said. “Both pitches that I threw (fastball and curve) were working well. So, it was good.”
His JFK counterpart, Drew Mendik (5-1), was also good, but he was let down by his team’s defense in each of the innings in which New Riegel scored. Mendik allowed only four singles, struck out eight, walked one and hit a batter.
“He was pitching on a little bit of a sore elbow,” said JFK coach Don Lee, who is retiring after 34 seasons as the Eagles head coach. “We weren’t sure whether we were going to start him or not. He made the decision here when he loosened up and he gutted it out.”
Lee added: “I think that’s your No. 1 and 2 Division IV pitchers in the state.”
After Kirian stranded JFK runners on second and third in the top of the first inning, Cole Noftz was hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the frame. He moved to second on Alec Zoeller’s single and scored when Eagles second baseman Alec Burzynski threw wildly to first while trying to turn a double play on Kirian’s grounder to short.
Zoeller reached in the sixth when his ground ball went between the legs of JFK first baseman Michael Klaben. He went to second on a passed ball and then scored on Kirian’s single to right field.
“Any time you can add extra runs, it helps,” Kirian said. “Every little bit — whether it’s one run, two runs, whatever it is — every little bit helps. So, it was nice.”
Now, the Jackets are one win away from the state tournament, and Zoeller will take the mound against Dalton.
“I think they’re ready for it,” Hughes said. “I really do. It’s all a building block as you go. Obviously, you can only do one game at a time. I think our confidence has just got to be really good for tomorrow.
“At least it better be,” he said with a laugh.
Warren JFK 000 000 0 — 0 2 4 New Riegel 100 010 x — 2 4 1
WP — Kirian (8-0). LP — Mendik (5-1) top hitters: (JFK) Hadley 1B; McGee 1B. (NR) Kirian 1B, RBI; Arbogast 2-1B.
records: Warren JFK 16-6; New Riegel 21-5.