Kirtland’s run through the postseason came to an end on Thursday when Grand Valley scored a run in the bottom of the seventh inning to defeat the Hornets, 4-3, in a Division III regional semifinal at Massillon Washington High School.
The Hornets closed out the year with a 14-13 record with a sectional title and first district championship in school history.
“It was a fantastic ride and we left it all on the field too, that’s what we’re most proud of,” said Kirtland coach Luke Smrdel. “The guys went out and competed the best they could for seven innings. They did a great job. We couldn’t be more proud of these guys and what they accomplished.”
Kirtland’s appearance in the regional tournament was a bit of a surprise considering the Hornets opened the year with a 7-10 record. The Hornets then hit their stride and won seven of 10 games in May.
“It was a roller-coaster ride this season,” Smrdel said. “We got hot at right time and ran with it. We got as far as we could. At the end of the day, we’re going to look back and see these guys accomplished something that never happened before at Kirtland.”
The Hornets took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Mike Zeuli hit a one-out single and moved to second on a walk to Ryan Lipps. Tyler McCrory, who also pitched a complete game, singled to score Zeuli.
Grand Valley tied it in the bottom half of the inning on two walks, a single and a sacrifice fly.
The Mustangs took their first lead in the bottom of the fourth on a leadoff walk and two-out triple but the Hornets responded with two runs in the fifth to lead, 3-2.
Seann McGill and Zeuli both walked and McGill scored on an error. Zeuli crossed the plate on a passed ball.
Again, the Mustangs responded in the bottom half of the inning to tie the game at 3-3.
Luke Potosky led off the Kirtland sixth with a double but he was stranded when Logan Newell struck out the next three Kirtland hitters. Newell allowed just one earned run and struck out nine in six innings. Gordon Seger pitched the seventh for the Mustangs to pick up the win.
“Newell was tough,” Smrdel said. “He probably was one of the best pitchers we saw all year. He commanded the zone for the most part. We made him work a little bit but that’s a good team we lost to. I give them tons of credit. They’re well-coached, hustle and do everything right. They got the break they needed at the end.”
McCrory hit a batter with one out in the bottom of the seventh to give the Mustangs a shot to win it in regulation.
A stolen base and another groundout moved that runner to third. Michael McGovern then reached on an error to end the game.
Zeuli finished 2-for-3 with a double and two runs scored for the Hornets. Joey Torok had Kirtland’s fifth hit off of Newell.
“Zeuli stayed hot,” Smrdel said. “He was on base almost every time he batted and Tyler McCrory had a big RBI early. Ryan Lipps hit a good ball and scored a run. It was definitely a fight. Hopefully, we can learn from it. A lot of young guys played and hopefully, that experience helps us in the future. They’re all itching for more and want to go back.”