No stranger to Game 3, Strake Jesuit relies on pitching, timely hits to advance to regional final

No stranger to Game 3, Strake Jesuit relies on pitching, timely hits to advance to regional final (Copyright (c) 2022 VYPE - All rights reserved)

CYPRESS—Pitching continues to set the standard this season for Strake Jesuit. As a result, the Crusaders’ defense of their Region III-6A title lives on.

Strake Jesuit junior right-hander John Toney was terrific on the bump for the Crusaders in a 2-1 Game 3 regional semifinal win over Katy on Saturday afternoon at Jersey Village High School. Toney was yet another Crusaders pitcher who stymied Katy’s potent bats in a series in which each game was decided by a single run.

In a complete-game effort, Toney surrendered one unearned run on five scattered hits, striking out two and walking none to lift Strake Jesuit (20-10-2) back to the regional final next week. The Crusaders will play the winner of the Ridge Point-Pearland series.

“My mindset was to go straight after them and make them beat me,” Toney said. “I talked to the coaches about going out and using the fastball. The two-seam inside I threw a lot, and it worked. Really good pitch for me.”

Katy (30-8) scored when senior Jhonnatan Ferrebus strolled in from third on a dropped ball by the first baseman on Sutton Hull’s hit to right. Otherwise, Toney did an admirable job keeping the ball on the ground and getting early outs in frames.

“We put in so much work in the offseason to get to the place we’re at as a pitching staff,” Toney said. “That goes to credit to our coaches and everyone who helps us out.”

In all, Strake Jesuit pitching held Katy to five runs on 15 hits, total, in the three-game series.

“We needed one more bounce to go our way,” said Katy coach Tom McPherson, who coached his last game after 34 memorable years at the helm of the Tigers and more than 850 wins. “Their pitching staff kept our bats (quiet), and that was the difference. Neither team really hit. They got a couple of key hits again today and we just couldn’t get one. We just didn’t do a really good job at the plate.”

Katy was in the regional semifinals for the first time since 2009.

Strake Jesuit jumped out to a 2-0 lead that proved more than enough. A bases-loaded hit by pitch on Clay Richardson from Katy starter Cole Kasse got the Crusaders up in the second inning. That ended a brief outing from Kasse. For the second straight game, Katy went to its bullpen much earlier than it would have liked, but showed off impressive depth in the bullpen all throughout the series.

Richardson’s two-out fourth-inning RBI single put Strake Jesuit up 2-0.

“We had quality at-bats,” said senior Shane Pellegrino, who went 3-for-3 at the plate for Strake Jesuit. “We played great defense behind great pitching. We battled through some tough ABs with two strikes, getting a few hits, bunting, moving the runner over. Just a total team effort.”

Down 2-1 in the top of the seventh, with the 7-8-9 hitters up, Toney induced two groundouts and a flyout to secure another series that went the distance.

In three of its four playoff series this season, Strake Jesuit has gone to a third game. The Crusaders are 3-0 in elimination games.

“We’ve had our backs against the wall a lot during the playoffs,” coach Raul Garcia-Rameau said. “The confidence of going to a Game 3 has been a big key for us. It comes from some of the experience from the guys who played on last year’s team, and then you get a pitching performance like that … a lot of ground balls, early strikes, early outs is really good for us.”

Strake Jesuit is not the same team that went to the state semifinal last year. Fourteen seniors graduated from that club.

But some cornerstones remain, such as Richardson, Pellegrino, and senior Trey Duffield—who homered in the 3-2 Game 2 loss—and senior ace Garrett Stratton. It’s their experience, plus a deep, dangerous stable of quality arms, that gives them faith they’ll go above and beyond this season.

“This year, we know what it takes to get us there,” Pellegrino said. “We know it’s not about just one or two guys. It’s everybody that’s going to have to get us there. There’s no nerves. We’re going to go out there and win it all.”