Shortly after the first four Kirtland batters crossed the plate in the top of the first inning of the Hornets Division III district semifinal against Wellington, head coach Luke Smrdel briefly considered going to the bullpen to preserve ace pitcher Tyler McCrory for Thursday’s district championship game.
That thought didn’t last long and neither did Smrdel’s comfort level as the Kirtland bats went cold and the Hornets had to pitch out of jams in both the sixth and seventh innings to preserve a 4-3 win.
“The motto is, ‘Survive and Advance,’ and that’s what we did,” Smrdel said. “We came out hot and that’s what we keep telling the boys, you’ve got to come out with fire and they did, but we couldn’t plate any more runs the rest of the game. We just survived.”
Joey Torok drew a leadoff walk for the Hornets and moved to second on Seann McGill’s single. Both runners advanced on a passed ball and Torok scored on Mike Zeuli’s RBI single. Ryan Lipps and Mike Alfieri also had RBI singles in the inning and Zeuli stole home to give the Hornets their 4-0 advantage.
Kirtland recorded just two hits and two walks over the next five innings.
Wellington pulled to within 4-2 in the top of the second on three hits and a fielder’s choice and added another run in the fifth off a leadoff double and a single.
McCrory ran into some trouble in the sixth when he allowed a two-out single then walked the next two batters to load the bases. He struck out the next batter to keep Kirtland in the lead.
After getting the first out of the seventh, McCrory again found himself in a jam after hitting a batter and an error put runners on first and third with one down. Tyler Bratton relieved McCrory and needed just 10 pitches to strike out the next two batters to earn the save.
“Tyler pitched out of some tough situations and did a great job overall and our defense made a lot of good plays and we played pretty clean baseball,” Smrdel said. “Tyler Bratton came in and did a great job. He came into a pressure-packed situation and held his composure and did a great job to get the save. That’s a tough situation to pitch in.”
McCrory allowed three earned runs on six hits and struck out nine in 6 1/3 innings of work to get the win.
Bratton is expected to start Thursday’s district championship game against Elyria Catholic.
“We were trying to make sure he’s able to start tomorrow and he’s going to get the ball,” Smrdel said.
First pitch at Lakewood High School is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.