As a Canton batter waited in the on-deck circle at Brandon Park he slipped, fell and provided some comic relief. The light moment elicited laughter but Canton already was smiling a lot.
When a team wins every game it plays, smiling and feeling good are constants. And Canton is feeling as good as any District 4 team these days.
Emmett Watson and Josiah Bardo scored eight runs, Trevor Route went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and Wes Moore pitched out of a fourth-inning jam Saturday as Canton defeated St. John Neumann, 15-4 in six innings. The Warriors improved to 9-0 and remained the only District 4 Class A undefeated team.
"It's a blast," Watson said. "All the guys are close. To have this kind of success is fun no matter what sport you're playing."
Canton never trailed, opening a 6-0 fourth-inning lead and then scoring nine runs in its last two at-bats after Neumann had pulled within 6-4. The Warriors delivered 12 hits and seven players had at least one RBI, highlighting their depth.
A year after losing four good starters from a District 4 Class A finalist, Canton is off to one of the best starts in program history and is averaging 11 runs per game. The pitching has been strong, too, and Moore left the bases loaded in the fourth inning while throwing 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.
"I feel strong with the team we have together. We're having a lot of fun," Bardo said. "I expected to have a good year, but not as good as we have been playing. We have a young team and a lot of young kids are stepping up."
While Watson and Bardo have been and were a force at the top of the lineup, it was Route, the team's No. 9 hitter, who really jolted the offense. Freshman pitcher Nick Grieco held Canton to two hits through three innings, but Route's two-out, bases-empty fourth-inning double keyed a three-run rally that gave the Warriors a 6-0 lead.
After Neumann made it a two-run game, Route delivered again, hitting a two-run single that sparked a seven-run fifth inning and put Canton up 13-4. The third baseman was one of five Warriors to collect at least two hits, joining Watson, Bardo, Moore and his brother Connor. Connor revealed another facet to Canton's offense, dropping a perfect bunt single down the third-base line, something Moore and Tanner Machmer also did.
Watson and Bardo each delivered two hits and scored four runs while also combining for three RBIs. Both have been outstanding at the top of Canton's lineup and Watson also stole five bases. Bardo hit a fourth-inning RBI double and extended his hitting streak to nine games while scoring following each of his final four at-bats.
"Josiah and I just try and do whatever we can to get on base and make our way around the bases," said Watson, a 1,000-point scorer in basketball last winter and also a quality high jumper on the track and field team. "We're really deep this year which is really helping us."
"I feel confident. I spend as much time in the cage as I can," Bardo said. "You always know someone has your back. If you don't get the job done someone else behind you will."
Neumann (4-4) made an impressive comeback in the fourth inning, scoring four two-out runs and putting a scare into Canton. Joe Orso hit a one-out single before Ryan Reid and Richard Allen drew consecutive RBI walks, Allen doing so after being behind 1-2. Isaac Beiter followed with a RBI single down the third-base line.
The Knights nearly made it 6-5 when Noah Beiter hit a hard grounder to shortstop a batter later. Beiter, though, was called out on a play that could have gone either way.
"These guys never give up," Neumann coach Ed Danneker said. "We'll have a few games like this that some will say are setbacks but they're not. We're going to learn from these games. We'll see how strong we really are."
That symbolizes a belief that Danneker has drilled into his players. A team that once was a punching bag for other District 4 teams has become a playoff contender that expects to win no matter who it is playing.
The Knights had only 10 players last year when they won their final six regular-season games and came within a strike of reaching the district semifinals. Six of those players graduated and four freshmen are starting, but the program again looks solid and playoffs are again a possibility. The future is bright, but so is the present.
"A lot of people coaching would say this is a rebuilding year, but we're not looking at rebuilding," Danneker said. "We're looking at it like we have to make the playoffs. That's our hope and we have to play that way."
Orso and Cody Forsburg both went 1 for 2 with a walk and figured prominently in Neumann's rally. Second baseman Nick Pinkerton added a terrific catch down the right-field line.
Canton hosts archrival Troy Monday. A win there would make the Warriors the first district team to clinch a playoff berth.
Canton102 372-15 12 0
Neumann000 400-4 3 5
Garrett Wesneski, John Bowman (3), Kyle Landis (4), Wes Moore (4) and Travis Butcher. Nick Grieco, Cody Forsburg (3), Isaac Beiter (5) and Noah Beiter. W-Bowman, (2-0). L-Grieco, (3-1).
Top Canton hitters: Emmett Watson 2-5, 2 RBI, 4 R, 5 SBs; Josiah Bardo 2-4, 2B, RBI, 4 R; Connor Route 2-4, 3 RBI, R; Chase Pepper 1-3, 3B, 2 RBI; Moore 2-3, R; Trevor Route 2-3, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R. Top Neumann hitters: I. Beiter 1-2, 2 RBI; Joe Orso 1-2; Forsburg 1-2, R.
Records: Canton 9-0. Neumann 4-4.