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Northeast Ohio Baseball Playoff District Previews: Division III

Leading up to the Playoffs, we’ll be previewing all of the districts involving Northeast Ohio schools in Divisions I through IV.

Sunday night (5/7), we’ll reveal our staff predictions for each district and regional tournament, surveying four baseball writers/analysts for their opinions on who will bring home the hardware.

All of these districts begin play on May 9 at 4:30 pm.

Division III

Massillon Region

Lakewood District

Favorite #1 Elyria Catholic (15-3)

Contenders #2 Trinity, #3 Kirtland, #4 Lutheran West, #5 Gilmour

Sleepers #6 Wellington, #7 Wickliffe, #8 Beachwood, #9 Villa Angela-St. Joseph

This district might not appear wide open, as Elyria Catholic has played like arguably the best Division III team in the state all year. But the depth from top to bottom makes for some intriguing matchups.

The VASJ-Beachwood game will be great to see a rematch from April 25, when the Vikings won, 11-4. Odds are it’ll be a bit closer this time around. The winner gets the unenviable task of facing Elyria Catholic on the road.

#4 Lutheran West (14-2), the Patriot Athletic Conference Stripes Division Champs had a dominant regular season and a second round match against battle-tested #5 Gilmour (10-6) should make for a close game.

Lutheran West or Gilmour are likely to face Elyria Catholic in a district semifinal and the good news for either of those teams is they may not have to run into ace Andrew Abrahamowicz – a senior right handed pitcher who is committed to play college ball at Nebraska.

That’s not to say the rest of Elyria Catholic’s pitching staff is a walk in the park, but LW and Gilmour are both talented teams and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Gilmour already narrowly defeated Trinity head-to-head, while Lutheran West had only two hiccups in the entire season.

On the other side of the bracket, a potential #2 Trinity vs. #3 Kirtland matchup has all the makings for an instant classic.

Trinity (18-4) has been rolling all season and could lock up the North Coast League White Division Championship soon.

Kirtland (11-6) owns some impressive wins this year, including a recent 4-3 win over Hawken in league play.

#7 Wickliffe (13-10) has a tough matchup against Trinity, should it advance past Brooklyn, but the Blue Devils have been rolling lately, scoring eight or more runs in three of their last four games, going 3-1 in that stretch.

The team that could throw a wrench into things on that side of the bracket is #6 Wellington (10-6).

Wellington has a strong defensive team and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes with an outfield that covers a lot of ground.

It’s been a bit of an up and down year for the Dukes, but they were the first team to hand Elyria Catholic a loss this year, so nobody should be caught off guard if they see them in the tournament.

When all is said and done, the two most-talented teams in the district, Elyria Catholic and Trinity are likely to square off for what should be a clash of two Northeast Ohio powerhouses.

EC hasn’t been flying under the radar as much in state polls, but both teams have been dominant all season and neither of them played cupcake schedules.

The Tuesday night semifinals and Wednesday evening district final at Lakewood will make for entertaining baseball with some of the top prospects in the state on the field.

Players to Watch

Andrew Abrahamowicz P, EC

Leighton Banjoff, OF, EC

Ryan Strittmather, IF, EC

Jake Visha P, Trinity

Collin Hohman C, Trinity

Kevin McSweeny OF, Trinity

Mike Zeuli, C, Kirtland

Palmer Capretta, IF, Kirtland

Jackson Clark IF, Gilmour

Rory Zackareckis P, LW

Josh Cales, LW

Struthers District

Favorite #1 Canton Central Catholic (13-7)

Contenders #2 Columbiana, #3 South Range, #4 Cardinal Mooney, #5 Rootstown

Sleeper #6 St. Thomas Aquinas

This district appears to be relatively balanced 1-through-6.

Canton Central Catholic has faced a rigorous schedule and first-year head coach Dan Massarelli has filled the shoes of legendary coach Doug Miller as well as anyone could have expected.

The Crusaders are the team to beat, even after graduating an impressive 2016 class, but perhaps a team will dethrone Canton Central Catholic, which won back-to-back district titles in 2015 and 2016.

#5 Rootstown (15-4, 7-2) has put together an impressive regular season and controls its own destiny to win the Portage Trails Conference County Division with less than a week left in the season.

#4 Cardinal Mooney played a tough schedule compared to some Division III schools, as did #6 St. Thomas Aquinas. A potential Cardinal Mooney vs. Rootstown matchup would be very interesting to see and the winner of that game should not be taken lightly in the district semifinals.

#2 Columbiana (18-5) has been rolling all season and already beat #3 South Range (14-5) twice in the regular season.

It’s tough to beat the same team three times and the district semifinal could be headed for that matchup.

However, St. Thomas Aquinas (12-8) is going to be a tough out for whatever team(s) they face in this district.

Players to Watch

Quinton Heck, IF, CCC

Bryson James, C, South Range

Travis Baxter, OF, South Range

Leavittsburg District

Favorite #1 Champion (16-2)

Contenders #2 Hawken, #3 Grand Valley

Sleepers #4 LaBrae, #5 Berkshire

This is one of the more top-heavy districts. The appropriately named number one seed has its sights set on Columbus, but #2 Hawken (16-4) has been a force in the Chagrin Valley Conference, beating up on some tough competition this season.

Don’t rule out a LaBrae or Berkshire upset over Champion, but the way things are lining up, we could be headed for a showdown between Hawken and Champion – two of the best teams in all of Division III, let alone their district.

Players to Watch

Michael Turner, C, Champion

Drake Batcho, P/Util, Champion

Jimmy Clark, Hawken

Evan Foxon P, Hawken

Aaron Powlak, IF, Berkshire

Miles Chapman, Berkshire

Matt Medley is co-editor at NEO Sports Insiders, covers the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Indians and high school sports in Northeast Ohio. Follow @MedleyHoops on Twitter for live updates from games.

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