HUDSON - There was a point early this baseball season that Cardinal Mooney coach Al Franceschelli was a bit fed up with his Cardinals.
They weren't playing to their potential and were just a game over .500. So, the longtime coach decided it was time for a change.
"We've played small ball all season," said Franceschelli, who then stopped for a moment and corrected himself. "After we had reached 5-4 in the season, we changed our whole format to get these kids to move runners around, to play for the run, not to look for the big inning. Playing for the run leads to a big inning. So, they bought into that, and it's worked for us ever since."
That concept certainly served Mooney well on Thursday. The Cardinals broke through for seven runs in the fifth inning and cruised to an 8-4 victory over Canton South in a Division II regional semifinal. Mooney (21-7) plays Akron Hoban (19-10) in the regional final at 5 p.m. today at the Ball Park at Hudson High School.
The Cardinals collected six of their 10 hits in the big fifth inning, and 12 men came to the plate. The small-ball approach paid dividends as well. Harrison Wagner started the inning with a single, moved to second on a wild pitch and then scored when on a bunt by Christian Lowery. The Canton South second baseman, who was covering first on the bunt, saw the ball nick off his glove and roll down the right-field line. That tied the game at 2, but the error seemed to deflate the Wildcats (24-5), and it ultimately led to a huge inning by the Cardinals.
"That's what we rely on," said senior catcher Drew Delsignore, who finished 2 for 4 with two doubles and an RBI. "I know we have slip ups on defense from time to time, but we rely on scoring a lot of runs."
That wasn't a problem on Thursday.
Mooney also avoided a few big innings by Canton South. The Cardinals' starting pitcher, Kane Durkin, stranded two runners in the first, third and fourth innings. The big right-hander allowed three runs on six hits over five-plus innings, striking out four and walking four. His ability to make quality pitches in key situations helped keep Mooney in the game.
"He's got guts," Franceschelli said. "He's a tough, inner-city Youngstown kid, and he's not giving up. He's not afraid to throw inside, and he's just a really good pitcher. His velocity isn't the greatest, but he's got four pitches, and he throws them all for a strike."
Denver Martin provided some early pop for the Cardinals as he connected for a solo home run to left that tied the game at one in the second inning. It was the first home run this season for Mooney, which might be a little surprising considering the Cardinals average seven runs a game. Delsignore, whose first double bounced off the base of the fence, certainly isn't happy about that stat.
"I have like 10 off the wall," he said. "He (Martin) gets one, and he's never gonna let me hear the end of it."
A trip to the regional finals should help ease his pain. The Cardinals have never reached the state tournament, which would be the next step if they can beat Akron Hoban today.