Shaker shuts down Liverpool to reach state semifinals

Regardless of what happens now, the Shaker baseball team of 2011 is the most successful in the program's history, heading for its first-ever state Class AA final four.

The Blue Bison got there with its usual formula - terrific pitching augmented by timely, clutch hits - to beat Section III champion Liverpool 3-1 in Monday night's AA regional final at DeLutis Field in Rome.

The feeling, I can't put it into words right now, said head coach Steve Frank. "It's like living in a dream. We had an opportunity to take it further, and we did."

Senior right-hander Zach Breen, pitching in what he called the biggest start of his career, went five-plus innings to earn the win, with Derek Gardella going the final two innings in relief.

Shaker did not waste much time moving to the lead. In the top of the first inning, Drew Lasky drew a one-out walk, went to second on Liverpool pitcher Alex Caruso's wild pickoff throw, and raced home on Jeff Hoffman's two-out double to the wall.

That 1-0 margin would hold for a long time. Breen, following up his shutout of Saratoga Springs in the Section II semifinals, stared down a potent Warrior lineup that kept giving itself chances with at least one hitter reaching base in each of the first four innings.

Every time, though, Breen got out of it. He said the key was "getting to throw my game", which meant feeding the Liverpool batters fastballs early, then turning to his curve when it got tighter.

It was still 1-0 going to the top of the sixth when, with two out, the Blue Bison got the cushion it needed from the bottom of the order, just like so many other times this season.

Bob Derico crushed a single up the middle. Moments later, Eric Egan ripped a double off the wall, allowing Derico to race all the way home, and pinch hitter Jeremy Fink followed it up with his own single that scored Egan.

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