CRANBERRY TWP — Zach Kreke wasn’t about to let Cranberry’s woes against Zelienople this season continue.
Kreke, a Shaler graduate and junior pitcher at Waynesburg College, tossed a three-hit shutout as Cranberry took Game 1 of its best-of-three Eagle County League series with a 5-0 win over Zelienople at North Boundary Park Monday evening.
Kreke struck out four, didn’t walk a batter and was masterful at changing speeds and keeping Zelienople hitters guessing.
“I have a change-up I throw and a curveball to keep them off balance,” Kreke said. “I just try to throw strikes and let my fielders make plays.”
Cranberry (16-14) came into the series with some bad recent history against Zelienople.
Cranberry had lost all four meetings against Zelie this season.
“Yeah, it was in the back of our minds a little bit,” said Cranberry player/manager Bill Clinefelter. “But we have a three-game series. Anything can happen. I’m happy with the result, obviously. I’m optimistic with two games to go we can win a game.”
Zelienople player/manager Mark Weimer said he knew what happened in the regular season would have little impact on the playoffs.
“We played them well during the season,” Weimer said. “But we knew they had some better pitchers coming late in the season and in the playoffs like they always do.”
Kreke has been solid all season for Cranberry, which has given up one run in its last four games.
“He’s been throwing really, really well lately,” Clinefelter said. “I expected that kind of performance from him. He did not let us down.”
Kreke is used to pitching in high-pressure situations from his days at Shaler and last year on the mound at Waynesburg, where he was 6-5 with a 4.74 ERA in a hitter’s league.
Kreke got all the runs he would need in the fourth inning when Cranberry loaded the bases before a two-run single by Ben Follett.
Cranberry added three more runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, keyed by an RBI double by Greg Miller and an RBI single by Ed Jacquel.
“Their pitcher was really effective,” said Weimer, who had two of his team’s three hits. “He didn’t blow anything by us, but we didn’t make a lot of solid contact.”
Cranberry has had a rough season by its standards because of injury.
Only Clinefelter has played in every game. Miller, who had two doubles, just returned from a back injury recently.
Yet, Cranberry is one win away from heading back to the semifinals.
“Miller shut himself down with back problems,” Clinefelter said. “Having him in the lineup makes a big difference. Last year we had our core 10 play in 26, 27 games. This year, with the 32-game schedule, I was the only one to play in every game and the others were like in the low 20s.”
Zelienople 000 000 0 — 0 3 1
Cranberry 000 203 x — 5 6 2
W: Zach Kreke 7IP (4K, 0BB). L: Ron Sullivan 6IP (1K, 3BB).
Zelienople (13-19): Justin King 2B, Mark Weimer 2-1B
Cranberry (16-14): Brad Johnson 1B 2-R, Greg Miller 2-2B RBI, Ben Follett 1B 2-RBI, Ed Jaquel 2-1B RBI