Zane Patterson pitched like a bulldog.
Pounding the strike zone all afternoon, the Bulldogs hurler helped host Woodridge to a 5-1 victory over Streetsboro in a sectional final matchup May 9.
"Zane's a strike-thrower, that's what he is," Woodridge coach Dennis Dever said. "He's not going to blow anybody away. He's going to mix speeds. He's going to hit spots."
Patterson set a tone, mowing through the first five Rockets hitters with just 10 pitches. Streetsboro adjusted, going after Patterson's first-pitch fastballs, so he started throwing first-pitch curveballs.
"We teach our kids, 'We want you to swing at a first-pitch fastball if you like it and you're going to hit it hard. We want you to lay off a first-pitch curveball,'" Rockets coach Chris Scisciani. "Well then, he started starting guys off with a first-pitch curveball for strike one, and he did that to multiple batters, and now we're down 0-1."
Indeed, whether it was his fastball early or his curve late, Patterson began 23 of his 31 batters faced with a first-pitch strike.
It's always good to throw strikes, particularly with a lead, and Patterson held an edge since the Bulldogs notched two runs in the first and two more in the second.
As a result, following its third victory over Streetsboro this season, No. 3 seed Woodridge will take on No. 2 seed CVCA May 15 at 4:30 in a Division II district semifinal at Euclid High School.
Woodridge relied on its trademark small ball and speed May 3, mixed with costly Streetsboro miscues.
"We figured out as the year went on [that] we have to scratch and claw," Dever said. "If we can put the ball in play hard on the ground, bunt the ball, steal obviously, we've got a pretty good shot of winning games."
Jake Margroff led off the first by lashing a 3-1 pitch to right, easily swiping second, then taking third on an errant pickoff. He scored on David Massey's gorgeous safety squeeze, bunted right down the first-base line.
"He put it right where he needed to," Dever said. "He gave Jake a great read and Jake was able to go in standing up."
Preston Clark followed with a one-out walk, stole second and scored on a two-out hopper that the Rockets' infield couldn't handle.
The second followed a similar narrative.
Tanner Boston lined a full-count fastball over the second baseman, stole second and scored on a towering Massey fly that seemed catchable yet fell for a hit. Massey came around to score on a grounder up the middle that probably could've been handled as well.
Between two Streetsboro errors, another misplayed pickoff and a couple Woodridge hits that could have been caught, the Rockets gave the Bulldogs too many chances.
"(Pitcher) Preston (Collins) probably should've gotten out of there with two runs, and now we're down 4-0," Scisciani said. "Maybe it's a different ballgame if we don't make those errors, we catch that fly ball, now it's 2-1."
The Rockets outhit the Bulldogs, 9-7, with their top seven batters all recording hits, including two apiece from Collins in the one spot and Nick Keba in the two spot.
Yet even with consecutive hits in four different innings, normally the key ingredient to a rally, Streetsboro didn't plate its first run until the seventh, when Collins lashed a double to the left-field corner and Keba dinged a RBI single off Patterson.
"We didn't have a big hit with a guy on second base," Scisciani said. "We had [nine] hits, but we couldn't get a hit with a guy on second base."
Much of the credit for nine stranded Streetsboro runners belonged to Patterson, who pumped heat by the bottom of the order and threw filthy off-speed stuff to the top.
With runners on first and second with two outs in the second, Patterson got his opposing batter to wave at a high, outside fastball for the inning-ending strikeout.
"He's probably mid-seventies, maybe upper-seventies, but it looks like he's throwing harder because his off-speed is so good and he throws it so often," Dever said.
After two choppers through the infield put runners on first and second in the third, Patterson coerced two grounders to escape trouble. In the fourth, following Woodridge's only error of the day, Patterson glided by on another high heater for another inning-ending strikeout. He ended the fifth with a nasty cutter that broke toward the hitter's hands for his fifth strikeout.
Its one miscue aside, the Bulldogs defense was smooth as can be, with Clark showcasing a golden arm at short and Woodridge's outfield getting great jumps. When Streetsboro sophomore Ty Arlesic smashed a line drive with runners on first and second in the sixth, left fielder Brian Fay was ready, calmly making the catch.
"When a pitcher knows you have got good defense behind there, he knows he can throw a lot of strikes," Dever said. "You don't have to make perfect pitches. Sometimes, you go to the center of the zone and just let your defense play."
Scisciani said after the game that he was proud of how Arlesic hit the ball Tuesday.
He was also thrilled with Kyle Armbrecht, who sailed through four innings of relief on just 35 pitches, including six pitches apiece in the third and sixth. He threw first-pitch strikes to the first nine batters he faced, yielding a single run.
"When he's hitting spots and doing what he's supposed to do, he is pretty good," Scisciani said.
Yet, for all the zeroes he posted, Armbrecht couldn't erase the runs already given away.
"You can't make mistakes like we did early in the game and give them runs and expect to beat a good baseball team," Scisciani said.