Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Loncar’s Sweet Sixteen extra special after game-winning hit

EUCLID—Kirtland coach Luke Smrdel didn’t exactly plan anything special for Owen Loncar’s 16th birthday but he did set his first baseman up to be the hero in the Hornets’ 5-4 win over Berkshire in a Division III district semifinal at Paul Serra Field on Thursday.

Loncar recorded an unassisted double play in the top of the seventh then singled home the game winning runs in the bottom half of the inning to win it.

“Happy birthday Owen,” Smrdel said. “What a great birthday present for Owen. He had a great game. He knocked in the winning run and made a double play in the seventh. It was a fantastic day for him. I’m so happy for him. It was all in the master plan.”

With Berkshire leading 4-3 in the top of the seventh and Badger runners on second and third with no outs, Smrdel intentionally walked Miles Chapman to load the bases. Will Bleschmid then ripped a liner down the right field line. Loncar snagged it and tagged first to double up Chapman. The Hornets recorded a fly out to end the Badger threat and Loncar drove in the winning runs five at bats later.

“Baseball is a funny game,” Smrdel said. “Things went our way that last inning. We made it happen. That was an incredible game; back and forth all day long against a great team. It was a fantastic game.”

Berkshire took a 1-0 lead in the second when Chapman drew a one out walk, stole second and scored on Luke Byler’s two out single.

The Hornets responded with a pair of runs off just one hit in the inning.

Vinny Matticoli singled to start the inning but was thrown out at second on Andrew Hutton’s fielder’s choice. A walk and back-to-back errors gave the Hornets a 2-1 lead.

The Badgers took a 3-2 lead in the third off back-to-back hits by Aaron Pawlak and Jarett Smetana, a sacrifice fly by Gordy Cossick and Chapman’s RBI single.

They added another in the fifth when Pawlak stretched a single into a double then scored on Sam Fisher’s single. Berkshire loaded the bases with one out but managed just the one run to make it 4-2.

“It’s unfortunate because we had plenty of opportunities in the game to blow it wide open, which we should have,” said Berkshire coach Steve Smetana. “That’s kind of how we’ve been lately as a team. These guys have to understand the difference of getting that couple extra runs across the board and buckling down to get those runs. You allow them to stay in the game. They had four hits all game and they got a lucky seeing-eye ground ball when they really needed it.”

The Badgers also had a runner in scoring position with less than two outs in the sixth but couldn’t increase their lead.

That left the door open for the Hornets, who got one back in the sixth when Matthew Finkler was hit by a pitch and moved to second on Loncar’s ground out. He scored on Hutton’s single to right center. Palmer Capretta then drew a walk but Kirtland left two runners stranded in the inning.

David Allchin singled to lead off the bottom of the seventh for the Hornets but he was picked off first base before Joey Bates could sacrifice him to second. Bates was then hit by a pitch to put the tying runner on first base with one out.

Berkshire replaced Cossick with Jarett Smetana, who shut down the Hornets in Berkshire’s 10-5 regular season win.

“I told the boys we have to be patient,” Smrdel said. “The umpire had a pretty small strike zone most of the day. It was pretty tight but he was consistent with it so I said make him work and they did. We got some guys on base and scored the runs.”

Anthony Fortuna and Finkler both drew walks to set the table for Loncar, whose big hit was preceded by a slow ground out to first but was later ruled foul. He made the most of his second opportunity by punching the ball past a diving Byler at second base.

“It feels great,” Loncar said. “I didn’t know what to do after the hit. It’s a great feeling celebrating with the team. It’s a great experience to have in my life.”

Finkler went the distance for the Hornets. He allowed 10 hits, walked five and struck out two.

Cossick went 6 1/3 for the Badgers in a no decision. He gave up four runs on three hits and struck out a pair of Hornets.

Loncar, Allchin, Matticoli and Hutton had the hits for the Hornets while Pawlak, Cossick, Fisher and Byler all had a pair of hits for the Badgers.

Kirtland advanced to Friday’s district championship game against Gilmour Academy. The Badgers conclude their season on Saturday with regular season game against Kenston.


Steve Hare
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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