Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Big innings lead Blue Devils to sectional title game

Three four-run innings helped Independence collect its first postseason win since claiming a Division III district title in 2014.

The Blue Devils used those big innings to defeat Kidron Central Christian in a Division IV sectional semifinal on Wednesday.

“That was very important,” said Independence coach Mark Echstenkamper about snapping the postseason losing streak. “We talked to them about getting back into the groove with tournament ball. In the past, we have been there a lot but recently we haven’t done too well in tournament play.”

Central Christian jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the second but the Blue Devils scored four runs in the bottom of the third and four more in the fourth to take control of the game. Independence added a run in the fifth and responded to Central Christian’s four-run sixth with four of their own to close out the scoring.

“The win was not how I would have drawn it up,” Echstenkamper said. “I thought we should have done a lot better than we did, especially in giving up runs, but we hit the ball wall and pitching-wise we gave up too many walks and they took advantage of it. We also had a few errors but we’re playing (on Thursday) and that’s what’s most important.”

Jamie McMahon allowed six earned runs with seven strikeouts and seven walks in 5 2/3 innings of work to pick up the win. Zak Billings relieved him in the sixth and didn’t allow a run.

“It was great getting a postseason win under our belt,” McMahon said. “We responded well in front of our home crowd to advance to (the sectional championship) game. As I got through the later innings, I thought I could’ve been mentally tougher to challenge the hitters early in the count.”

Nick Mroczynski, Andrew Teribery, Tyler Teare and Connor Blum all had two hits for the Blue Devils.

Mroczynski also knocked in three runs and hit a triple in the game.

“The whole team was confident today and we just wanted to continue our season,” Mroczynski said. “I just tried to put the ball in play and move runners into scoring position. The dugout is a lot of fun and filled with so much energy. We try to find different ways to cheer on our teammates. It’s a good feeling after you score and you see everyone at the entrance of the dugout high-fiving you.”

Jordan Mallernee had just one hit but it was a big one.

His sixth-inning three-run homer helped allowed the Blue Devils to respond to Central Christian’s big inning.

“It was a great feeling, especially in the playoffs,” Mallernee said of his first high school home run. “Before my at-bat, coach told me that if I get an inside pitch to be aggressive and get my hands through to it. As soon as I hit it I knew it was solid and had a chance to get out.”

The Blue Devils, who improved to 11-11 on the year after starting the season 1-6, will travel to Rittman on Thursday for the sectional championship game.

Steve Hare
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes, an online publication dedicated to providing hyperlocal coverage to area high school athletic programs. Hare began covering high school sports for the Lake County News Herald in 1997. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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