ELYRIA — Both seeded in the Division I Strongsville District that began state tournament play on Tuesday, the North Olmsted and Elyria baseball teams weren’t about to give anything away beforehand.
In a non-league contest at Ely Stadium last Saturday that was equal parts “Pioneer Senior Day” and tournament tune-up, both teams went deep into their benches, employing substitutes across the diamond. One of those subs, outfielder Steven Larkins, came up with the biggest hit of the afternoon for the Pioneers as they went on to beat the Eagles 6-5 in eight innings.
Larkins, who’d gone 0-for-2 in the junior varsity’s 6-1 win over North Olmsted less than an hour prior, took his lone varsity at-bat of the day with one out in the bottom of the eighth. On reliever Matt Olah’s first pitch, he sent a fly ball to right field that sailed over Kyle Maher’s head and to the fence for a triple. Three pitches later he astutely tagged up and scored on a Kevin Reddinger sacrifice fly to right that Maher dove and caught in foul territory.
If Maher had let the ball land on the grass, the game would’ve continued. The Eagles had a double-play on their minds with every defender playing in, and had loaded the bases after intentionally walking Michael Knapp and Hunter Osborne.
“That’s high school baseball,” Eagles coach Tim Murphy said. “Both teams were pretty much committed to playing a lot of guys today. It’s a non-conference game right before our state tournament, so we certainly couldn’t get into our pitching staff. We’re basically out of pitchers. We played a lot this week, so we got a lot of guys in and working today (at most every position).”
Larkins and Reddinger (2-for-3, run scored) ended a game in which both teams punched and counter-punched with rallies. The Pioneers (14-12) led 5-3 in the seventh before the Eagles (13-12) manufactured two runs to tie and extend it.
The Eagles got a runner into scoring position in the top of the eighth when pinch-hitting Carter Lynes singled to center. Pinch-runner Sean Elbin then stole second, but Pioneers reliever Gage Barbee struck out Olah and Sam Gouch to halt the rally.
“To our credit, we chipped away and found a way, and both teams handed opportunities to the other team,” Murphy said. “Nobody really beat anybody. We both kind of beat ourselves. Maybe it should’ve ended in a tie.”
The Eagles managed six hits in the game, led by a 2-4 day at the plate from Alex Rahm and three runs scored by Clay Rainey, and used opportunistic baserunning to overcome 3-2 and 5-3 deficits. They stole six bases and scored two runs on wild pitches. Errors were an issue for both teams as they committed four apiece.
With the score deadlocked at three in the sixth, Elyria loaded the bases with one out and took a two-run lead without a ball ever leaving the infield. Colin Weekley laid down a RBI sac-bunt to give his team the 4-3 lead, then Dakota Rodriguez, one of the team’s 11 seniors honored before the first pitch, drew an RBI walk in his first at-bat of the season to provide some brief cushion.
Two errors and a wild pitch in the seventh gave the Eagles new life and a 5-5 tie, but the goal of the game for both teams remained to use as many players as possible and try to come out with a win without giving any glimpses of strategy ahead of any potential tournament meeting.
“We have 11 seniors, so we kind of went with them and mixed them up around the infield (out of position),” Pioneers coach Ed Piazza said of his starting lineup. “Those are the guys that have been with us for four years, so we mixed it up and it showed a little bit (with errors), but they did a good job with it. We matched them up with a senior pitcher (Cameron Brubaker) who can throw strikes. Plus, (North Olmsted’s) in the same tournament as us, so we didn’t want to show them anything anyway.”
Barbee allowed an unearned run on one hit and earned the win after tossing two innings. Olah pitched 2 2/3 innings and took the loss, allowing four runs (three earned) on four hits and five walks.
Brubaker pitched six strong innings for the Pioneers, giving up four runs (two earned) on six hits and three walks with eight strikeouts. Darion Stanley allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits and struck out nine over five frames.
The Eagles began tournament play Tuesday at Lakewood, with the winner advancing to a Sectional final against top-seeded St. Edward Thursday at 5 p.m.
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