AVON LAKE – If the first game of Saturday’s baseball doubleheader between Avon Lake and Eastlake North was a pitchers duel, the second game was a pitching masterclass.
The Rangers bested the Shoremen 3-0 and 1-0 in the two games, but both team’s put together two high-quality pitching performances that included a complete game from Avon Lake and two Eastlake North saves.
Mike Beckman started game one for the Rangers (13-12) and had a lead to work with right away. In the top of the first, Eastlake jumped ahead 2-0 after Shoremen starter Kevin McKinley balked in Stephen Davies and gave up an RBI single to Brandon Swearingen – both coming with two outs.
“It feels great knowing that everyone can hit the ball and we can get some runs. I just gotta keep doing what I’m doing,” Beckman said.
From there on out, both pitchers dealt the rest of the game. Beckman threw six innings, gave up just four hits, struck out eight and walked two. He also stranded seven Avon Lake runners on base. McKinley pitched the rest of the game for the Shoremen (10-14) and outside of the first and final inning, was just as efficient.
He gave up nine hits but struck out 10 Ranger batters, issued just one walk and stranded five men on base between the second and seventh inning. Eastlake struck for their third and final run in the seventh when Zach Mitchell drove in Chris Molica on a sacrifice fly.
Sam Michalski came on in the bottom of the seventh with two on and no outs and retired the next three batters to pick up his first of two saves Saturday.
“I wasn’t worried about (Michalski),” Beckman said. “I knew he was going to come in and get the job done and that’s what he did.”
In game two, offense was much harder to come by for both teams. Braden Collins started on the hill for the Rangers, while Ryan Shinko started for Avon Lake. The Shoremen used three total pitchers in game two. Both teams had just four hits in the second matchup.
Avon Lake had a prime scoring opportunity in the bottom of the first with designated hitter Jackson Armbrecht on first after a hit by pitch and shortstop Ethan Shepard on third. With Aiden Jantz at the plate with two outs and a full count, Armbrecht was caught leaning too far off the bag as the throw over tagged him out and ended the inning. The Shoremen came close to scoring again in the third after left fielder Alec Negron reached on a bunt single and ended up on third after two errors with just one out. A fly out and a groundout kept him at third though.
“We were too passive early in the count and I think we needed to be a little more aggressive,” Avon Lake head coach Kevin Marlow said. “Where we’ve struggled on and off is the consistency with our bats and that showed up today. I don’t think we adjusted well today. They had two left-handers so sometimes that presents issues.”
After getting just one runner on base between the third, fourth and fifth innings, the Rangers struck for the game’s only score in the sixth. A leadoff walk to Davies followed by a steal had him in scoring position with one out. Seth Higham grounded out to the second baseman, but it was enough to move Davies to third. Collins then doubled to right, scoring Davies.
In the bottom of the sixth, going up against Michalski again, the Shoremen went down 1-2-3. Avon Lake’s third pitcher of the game, Nick Bockelman, rebounded in the top of the seventh and struck out the side, stranding Dylan Froelich at second.
The Shoremen had a promising start to their half of the seventh when Gage Duesler singled to left. During the next at-bat, Duesler was picked off by Michalski before McKinley walked. Colin Flinn popped up to the left and Bockelman, the nine-hitter, singled to short putting runners at first and second with two outs.
Negron worked the count to 2-2 after fouling off a pitch, but struck out swinging to end the game.
“I’m very happy with how everything went today,” Eastlake head coach Kyle Stahlberg said. “It started with the pitching. Both (starters) pounded the zone, throwing all their pitches for strikes. When they’re locating all those pitches, it’s hard to get a couple hits against those guys. (Avon Lake’s) a good team. It was fun coming out here and playing them.”
Stahlberg also credited his offense for not getting down on themselves and continuing to fight against good pitching in the second game.
“(Avon Lake) threw some guys out there and one kid was humming it pretty well,” he said. “(We) scored one run, so they threw well. Whether we’re up or down or grinding through a game like this, it’s (about) just trying to attack when it’s in our spot. When they keep that approach, something will fall and that’s what it did today.”
Avon Lake started their tournament yesterday against North Ridgeville in the Sectional semi-final of the Strongsville District. Going into that game, Marlow was confident his team would be able to make the necessary adjustments for at the plate to have success in the postseason.
“We need to sort of refocus on, when we have runners on base, ‘What can I do to make sure my at-bat is a positive at-bat and good things come out of it?’” Marlow said. “We have a talented group, it’s just a matter of kicking it into gear here.”
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