EASTLAKE—Kirtland scored nine first-inning runs on just two hits then held off Berkshire in a 10-6 win at Classic Park on Sunday.
“We always talk about getting on top of opponents early, but I definitely didn’t expect us to score nine in the first inning,” Kirtland coach Luke Smrdel said. “We got comfortable with the lead, which wasn’t good to see. In baseball, no lead is ever safe. Berkshire is a good hitting team. We held on, which is all that matters at the end of the day. Hopefully, it was just a Sunday thing and we don’t act like Sunday drivers the rest of the year.”
Berkshire put its first two runners of the game on base in the top of the first but Kirtland’s Andrew Spencer pitched out of the jam.
The Hornets then took advantage of their opportunities in the bottom half of the inning.
Joey Torok drew a leadoff walk and Joey Mongelluzzi was hit by a pitch. Seann McGill then singled to load the bases.
A fielder’s choice cut down Torok at the plate but five of the next six Hornets reached base via a walk or hit by pitch and McGill doubled for his second hit of the inning to clear the bases.
In all, Kirtland drew five walks, had four players hit by a pitch and scored nine runs on just McGill’s two base hits in the inning.
“Our motto at the plate is ‘patiently aggressive,’” Smrdel said. “Our guys are very good at working counts and our patience paid off in that big inning.”
Berkshire’s third pitcher of the inning—Jacob Brown—finally got the Badgers out of the inning. He allowed just one earned run on six hits in 5 1/3 innings of work.
Brown’s performance allowed the Badgers to slowly claw their way back into the game.
“Real tough first inning today,” Berkshire coach Brian Hiscox said. “It’s tough to try and stay focused and stay locked in in a game like that, but I’m proud of the way our guys continued to battle and win the next six innings. Jake Brown we know has that type of potential to be a shutdown pitcher. He’s been so important to us defensively though he hasn’t gotten a ton of mound time, but we’ve seen how effective he can be in bullpen sessions we’ve had. He’s a great competitor with a bright future at both shortstop and pitcher positions.”
Berkshire made its move in the top of the third.
Bobby Czekaj and Brown hit back-to-back singles and Peter Brent drew a walk to load the bases. Brian Brent then hit an RBI single and Andy McKinney’s sacrifice fly pulled the Badgers to within 9-4 and chased Kirtland starter Andrew Spencer from the game after just three innings of work.
“Spencer struggled a little bit with his command, which was partially because he’s not used to pitching off a mound he can’t dig into,” Smrdel said. “Vince (Liuzzo) came in and did a great job. He got ahead of guys and pounded the zone. It’s a nice luxury having experienced guys who can come out of the bullpen who know how to get the job done.”
The Hornets added a run in the bottom of the third to increase their lead to 10-4 and Berkshire scored single runs in the fifth and sixth innings but that’s as close as they’d get.
Spencer picked up the win and Liuzzo closed out the final four innings. He allowed two unearned runs on five hits and struck out five.
McGill had a big day for the Hornets as he finished 4-for-5 at the plate with two runs scored and he knocked in three more.
Kirtland and Berkshire both finished the game with eight hits and two errors.
“It’s not very often you get to play on a professional field and our defense was a bit shaky,” Smrdel said. “I was definitely a little worried coming in about how the defense would be on this field. High school kids aren’t used to getting good hops and balls that stay down on their normal high school fields in Ohio.”
Both teams wore gold shoelaces to in honor of the Go 4 the Goal Foundation, whose mission is to improve the lives of children battling cancer by providing financial support, developing and implementing unique hospital programs, funding innovative research, and granting personal wishes.
“As a lot of people know, I’m a cancer survivor myself, and knowing the hardships that an adult faces, it’s hard to imagine what it could do to a child or their family,” Smrdel said. “This program helps out those kids and families, which is incredible. Kirtland and Berkshire have been rivals for years but we both know how important foundations like this are, and hopefully, by putting those gold shoelaces on together, we helped a few kids reach their goals.”
Kirtland improved to 10-4 overall and 9-1 in the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division while Berkshire dropped to 6-11, 3-7.