GATES MILLS–A change of venue didn’t seem to have an effect on the Kirtland baseball team in its 6-2 win at Hawken on Monday in a matchup of the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division’s top two teams.
Mother Nature forced the game to be played on Hawken’s turf field and the Hornets jumped out to an early lead and held on to take over sole possession of first place in the division with two league games remaining.
“We control our own fate,” said Kirtland coach Luke Smrdel. “The guys came out swinging and we got out ahead of them. We manufactured runs. That's what we had to do. Hawken is a very good team. We took advantage of the few mistakes they had. We had solid defense, solid hitting. It was a good game.”
The Hornets, who improved to 12-7 overall and 9-1 in league play, scored two runs in each of the first two innings to give starting pitcher Michael Kmentt all the support he’d need.
Palmer Capretta’s one out single got things going in the first. Mike Zeuli then singled and Joey Bates hit a sacrifice fly to right field to score Capretta. Zeuli, who advanced to second on a throw to the plate, scored on an infield single by Anthony Fortuna to make it 2-0.
Ryan Friedenberg opened the second with a single and Ben Stark walked. The Hawks turned Owen Loncar’s sacrifice bunt attempt into an out at third base and got the second out on an infield ground ball by David Allchin.
Stark and Allchin both scored in the inning on wild pitches to make it 4-0.
Kmentt allowed just one hit and hit a batter through the first four innings.
“It was a big team win overall since coming into today we were both 8-1 in the conference,” said Kmentt, who improved to 4-0 on the year by allowing just two unearned runs on two hits and struck out nine. “Defense made the plays behind me and we hit really well today. We jumped on them early, which was big for us as well as our goal for today.”
The Hornets made it 5-0 in the fifth on a leadoff single by Bates, who moved to second on a passed ball and to third on Fortuna’s sacrifice. He scored on a wild pitch.
Bates finished the day 3-for-3 with a run batted in.
“We knew coming into this week that we have to be playing some of our best baseball in order to win the conference,” Bates said. “We need to do exactly what we did today in our next two games, just play our game and have a lot of fun doing it.”
Loncar hit a one out single in the top of the sixth but was nearly picked off first base. Instead, the Hawks couldn’t make the tag and Loncar slid safely into second. He scored on Capretta’s two out single.
Kmentt pitched his way into a jam in the bottom of the sixth.
He walked the first two Hawken batters and beaned the third to load the bases with no outs. An error on an infield ground ball led to two runs but a pop-out, Kmentt’s ninth strike out and a great defensive play by second baseman David Allchin ended the Hawken rally.
Vinny Matticoli allowed one hit in the seventh to pick up his fourth save.
“I started getting tired there in the sixth then coach coming out to talk to me helped calm me down and then I focused in and took a little off my pitches to throw strikes,” Kmentt said. “David made a nice play on that slow dribbler to get the last out. Vinny's been our go-to guy for closing out games and he shut them down in the last inning to get us the win.”
Kirtland hosts Hawken on Wednesday and Berkshire on Thursday. One win clinches a share of the CVC title but the Hornets are looking for two victories to win it outright.
“Every game is as important as the last one,” Smrdel said. “We don't want to just win the conference, we want to win it outright. We have two big games left. We have Hawken at our place and Berkshire at our place. We control our own fate but we've got to come ready to play against those teams for sure.”