There's only one obstacle standing between the Warren Dragons baseball team and a chance to defend its District 10 Class AAA baseball championship.
Fittingly, it is arguably the biggest obstacle the team has faced all season.
The Dragons (14-5) can clinch a spot in their fourth straight District 10 championship game if they can defeat the top-seeded Cathedral Prep Ramblers in the Class AAA semifinals, at 2 p.m., Friday, at Ainsworth Field in Erie.
Times Observer file photo by Allen?Seybert
Warren second baseman Tanner Teconchuk throws to first base during the Dragons’ 13-10 D-10 quarterfinal win over General?McLane, Tuesday, at Slippery Rock University. Warren (14-5) plays Cathedral?Prep (18-1), at 2 p.m., Friday, at Ainsworth Field for a spot in Monday’s Class AAA title game.
Warren advanced to the round of four by outslugging General McLane, 13-10, Tuesday at Slippery Rock University. Grove City and Slippery Rock will meet in Friday's other semifinal. That game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Slippery Rock University.
While it would certainly be understandable if the Dragons and their relatively young team were intimidated by Prep and its 18-1 record, Warren first-year coach Rick Eaton doesn't believe his team will back down when the clubs take to the Ainsworth diamond.
"I think we'll be fine," said Eaton. "We've played good teams all year. The big key for us tomorrow will be the start of the game. We need to get out there and hit right off the bat and, if we don't do that, we need to put up some zeros early. We need to be in the game from the start because that will allow our confidence to grow and that's when we play our best."
The Dragons left Tuesday's game feeling very good about some things and not so good about some others. While the Dragons certainly showed their offensive explosiveness, Eaton was disappointed in how the team failed to put McLane away after holding a 9-0 lead in the fifth inning.
"We can't afford to do that tomorrow against this team," said Eaton.
Cathedral Prep's 18-1 record is no fluke. The team features three of the top 12 batters in all of District 10 and its only loss of the year came on May 2 against Class AA Saegertown. The Panthers are 17-2 and remain alive in the D-10 Class AA semifinals, also being played on Friday.
"They are a very fundamentally sound team and they do a lot of things well, but I think you could say the same about us," said Eaton. "We're going to go out there and throw everything we have at them in order to try to get the 'W'."
Leading the way for the Ramblers is junior Ted DeSanti who led the team with a .526 batting average through May 15 of this year. Close behind DeSanti are freshman Carter Cross and sophomore Charlie Fessler. Cross hit .489 this season while Fessler batted .486.
Fessler is tied for the District 10 lead in both doubles and triples with eight and two respectively. Cross has also hit two triples and DeSanti and Eli Flynn recorded seven doubles apiece during the regular season.
Cross was the team's leading pitcher in wins this season with three. Seniors Flynn and Blaine Bensur recorded two wins each. Prep's overall ERA is a miniscule 1.70 and the staff has recorded 106 strikeouts to just 32 walks.
As the record suggests, the Ramblers do everything pretty well and Eaton knows it will take a complete game to beat them.
"We're going to have to play a full seven innings," said Eaton. "They are sound fundamentally and they will put the ball in play. We just have to play a complete game. If we do that, I think we can beat them. If we do that, I think we can play with anybody."
If Warren can knock off Prep, the Dragons would advance to Monday's D-10 Class AAA championship at Slippery Rock University's Jack Critchfield Park. All three D-10 baseball title games will be played as part of a Memorial Day tripleheader. Game times will be released late Friday or Saturday.