Toronto Feels Confident Heading Into State Tourney

Red Knights take on Antwerp in semifinal Friday

TORONTO — Make no mistake about it, Toronto is a baseball city.

With all of the Red Knights’ success under Coach Brian Perkins and the years prior, there’s just something special about it that other area schools cannot match.

Football is football, and Sean Tucker is building something special with the basketball program. But, possible state champions come Sunday or not, the Red Knights faithful loves its baseball.

“It’s definitely a baseball town. The whole town comes together,” senior Kobe Herrick said. “I mean, you’ll see more people around supporting baseball than football. It’s crazy how many people come together for baseball around here.”

Toronto’s love and support for its team is only getting stronger, as the Red Knights need two more victories for a Division IV state championship. The run in Akron begins with a 7 p.m. start Friday. If successful, they will play at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

“I’ve been here for 26 years. They’ve had a long history of good baseball, even before I got here,” Perkins said. “It’s just the kids really enjoy it. We always say it’s a football town, but football’s big in the Ohio Valley in general. But, they definitely love their baseball in Toronto. You can tell by the support of the fans that come to games.”

The Red Knights (25-5) are in the state tourney for the fourth time in school history, second under Perkins. The last time came just a few seasons ago in 2017, and Perkins sees similarities and what his squad must do different.

“One of the biggest things from being there in 2017 is the fact that a lot these kids had the opportunity to make the trip,” he said. “Being familiar with the state tournament and the hype surrounding it, I think that’s the biggest thing. We have a veteran core of juniors and seniors, and they had the opportunity to see it. I think that’s going to be valuable for them.”

In the days leading up to Friday, Perkins could not be happier or more satisfied.

“We’ve had a good week of practice. We’ve been able to get out and see the other teams, which is always good,” Perkins said. “The kids are really excited. Being there in 2017, I believe its helped these guys understand what’s going on. They have a better idea of how to approach it. It’s been a pretty exciting week here in Toronto.”

Before the Red Knights can imagine what lifting a state title would feel like, they must focus on their first opponent in Antwerp. The Division IV, Region 14 champions won the district title for the first time in program history and have been called “The Team of Destiny” even with a No. 1 seed.

“Any time you face a team in the state Final Four, they’re always going to be good,” Perkins said. “They have a lot of very, very good young talent. Their top two pitchers are young, but they’re obviously very good. They knocked off some well-respected programs on the way to the Final Four.

“There’s a lot of excitement in that community. The softball team just won a state final. They obviously have a lot of great athletes going through. Our kids will be excited for the challenge.”

The Archers (19-5) began their run with a 14-0 victory in the sectional final. They later won the district with 5-1 and 11-1 wins over Edon and Montpelier.

In the regional tournament, Antwerp began with a 1-0 verdict over North Robinson Colonel Crawford. In the championship contest, it rallied from a three-run deficit over Kalida for a 4-3 victory in nine innings.

Led by Coach Zac Feasby, the Archers are young with one senior in catcher Brett Fulk. The rest consists of three juniors, three sophomores and seven freshmen. They are a member of the Green Meadows Conference and are located in Carryall Township in Northwest Ohio, right next to Indiana and roughly one hour and 16 minutes outside of Toledo. Their trip to Akron will take more than three hours.

As of Tuesday, Perkins was unsure of his plan for the pitching rotation. Most likely, either Nate Karaffa or A.J. Clegg will get the nod. Karaffa shut down Hiland in the district semifinal, while Clegg was the winner in the final against Strasburg.

During regional action, it was flipped. Clegg started and went the distance against Huntington, while Karaffa was the winner over Newark Catholic.

“Like always, we approach the tournament like we want to win it. We don’t want to approach it just to get to the finals,” Perkins said. “That started in the districts when we jumped up into Hiland’s bracket. Everybody thought we were crazy, but we had a plan. Then, the same thing happened in the regionals.

“We haven’t made our final decision, but we’re going to do what we have to do to win this tournament and not just get to the final.”

If all goes to plan, Toronto would face the winner of Minster/Hillsdale Sunday for the second state championship in school history.

“Everyone’s all in. We all want to make memories and make a statement,” Herrick said. “We all want to leave a legacy. Going from getting knocked out in basketball, there’s just a bunch of kids that want to play ball. It’s all for this city.

“We’re all clicking at the right time. We’ve been hitting and fielding phenomenally. We just want this for the town. We just want to play baseball and win it all. We love it too much.”

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