The Berkshire Badgers will make a return trip to the Division III district championship game after they blanked Chagrin Valley Conference rival Kirtland, 7-0, in Saturday's district semifinal at Euclid High School.
The win advances the Badgers to Wednesday's district title game, where they will play upstart VASJ (6-16) at 4:30 p.m. at Euclid's Stanic Field. The Vikings stunned CVC Metro champ Beachwood in Thursday's other semifinal.
Berkshire (24-3) scored all the runs it needed in the first two innings, the big blow coming on Nick Burzanko's three-run home run in the first inning off Kirtland starter Greg Turk. The Badgers staked a 7-0 lead after the second inning.
Berkshire ace Jon Tiber (7-0) pitched another gem for the Badgers, tossing a complete game, six-hit shutout. He struck out one and walked none and was also aided by five Kirtland errors, which contributed to several of the Berkshire runs.
The Badgers will look to erase any memories of last year's trip to the district championship in Euclid, a 12-1 mercy-rule loss to eventual state semifinalist Champion.
"We don't think too much about the Champion game," Berkshire coach Mark Smithberger said. "A lot of the kids weren't even part of that team last year. We have four new starters this year. Three of those kids played JV last year and one didn't even play baseball last year. We're just going to focus on hitting the ball hard, playing good defense and throwing strikes."
Smithberger is more than wary of the Vikings, who have pulled two major upsets in the tournament so far, beating second-seeded Perry in the sectional final and beating Beachwood in the district semis.
"St. Joe's is just as good if not better than Kirtland," Smithberger said of his team's next opponent. "I have a lot of respect for them. They played all season long in that North Coast League against teams like Lake Catholic and NDCL. They probably play in one of the toughest conferences in the state. It's going to be a challenge for us."
- James Johnson