By Drew Karpen
April 4, 2013 7:00 a.m. LINESVILLE —
The spectators had a hard time staying focused on the game through the wind gusting against their faces and heavy blankets and hats they cloaked over their bodies and heads. Every chance they got, players from both teams covered up with heavy hunting coats and stuck their hands in their back pockets to keep warm.
It doesn’t sound ideal for a spring baseball game. But that didn’t stop the Conneaut baseball team from sprinting out onto the field for their season, home and program opener against Central Tech on Wednesday at Conneaut Area High School.
“We have been in the gym for a very long time,” Conneaut coach Todd Greenawalt said. “The times we did get out it has been this cold. It was nice to play a game and officially get spring under way.”
The Eagles wasted no time getting familiar with their new squad, posting six runs in the first inning on their way to a 10-6 win over the Falcons, and milestone victory No. 1.
“It feels great,” starting and winning pitcher Cole Baker said. “First win of the season. Now we just have to keep rolling. Finally got outside to play. The weather has been bad. We have been preparing for awhile so it felt great.”
Not all was good in the first inning, as Baker found himself in a jam right from the start.
Central Tech’s Brian Kelly led off the game with a double to right center. The Falcons — who were also playing their first game of the season — showed signs of it with some questionable base running. Kelly eliminated himself from the base paths after attempting to steal third on a pick off attempt. Baker struck out the next two batters in the inning, swinging the momentum into the Eagles dugout heading into the bottom half.
Baker began the six-run outburst with a walk. Luke Graham followed with a pop out to shortstop, but a walk and hit by pitch to Brandon Sherman and Jon Onderko, respectively, loaded the bases full of Eagles. Senior Bryce Groh stepped to the plate ready to make a splash, but instead his plate discipline paid off with a walk, forcing home the first run of the game.
With a 1-0 lead and no hit to show for it, Chase Gallo made sure to change that. Gallo took a 2-1 offering to deep center field, over the outstretched arm of Mike Heise. Sherman and Onderko scored on the play, giving Conneaut a 3-0 lead. But the damage was far from over.
With runners on second and third, Central Tech’s Brayton Graves threw a pickoff attempt to third base that landed amongst the crowd down the third base line, allowing Groh to score.
After a walk to Jordan King, Jeremy Santarelli stepped to the plate with runners on the corners. Down 0-2 in the count, King took off from first, leaving a huge gap in-between first and second base. Santarelli took advantage, slapping the ball through the hole for an RBI single. Conneaut scored its sixth run of the inning on a bad throw into center field by Falcons’ catcher Trent Heitzenrater on a double steal by Conneaut.
“It was awesome,” Greenawalt said about his team’s first offensive inning of the season. “It allowed us to play a little more relaxed and try to let the cold weather be on the back burner. It made us more comfortable for the rest of the game.”
One Eagle in particular that appreciated the lead was Baker.
“It’s nice to pitch with a lead,” Baker said. “You have a lot more options. There isn’t too much pressure so it is a big help.”
Conneaut tacked on another run in the bottom of the second on a two-out two-RBI double by Groh.
With a 7-0 lead, Baker was cruising along, but found himself in his first serious jam in the third inning.
With the bases loaded and one out, Baker took a different approach. On an 0-2 count to Heise, Baker dropped his arm to the side, giving the Falcons a look they have not seen yet. Baker was able to get the strikeout on the sidearm fastball.
After walking the next batter to allow his first run of the game, Baker went back to his secret weapon to strike out fellow mound opponent Graves to end the inning.
“It fooled them,” Baker said. “If you are not expecting it, it is hard to pick up the lower arm angle. It is a good pitch to get out of some jams.”
That was the case in the fourth and fifth, as he found himself in jams in both innings, but came away allowing only one run in each.
With a 7-3 lead, Conneaut put a damper on the comeback effort of Central Tech with two runs in the fifth.
After a hit by pitch and stolen base by Gallo to lead off the inning, King delivered with an RBI single. King finished his adventure around the bases after stealing third and scoring on another errant throw by Heitzenrater for a 9-3 lead.
The Falcons scored three runs in the seventh off of reliever Matt Ray to make things interesting, but it was too little too late.
Baker picked up the win for the Eagles going five innings, allowing three runs on eight hits and striking out eight.
Being a part of the first win in program history was a pretty neat idea to coach Greenawalt.
“I mean, I didn’t think about it until the end there,” Greenawalt said, “maybe the last three outs. It’s cool. It’s a milestone. I mean, you can say that about all of our sports teams this year, but it’s cool. The kids have put in a lot of effort in the preseason and it is nice to finally say that was our first win.”
Groh and Gallo led the offense, both going 2-for-3 with two runs and two RBIs.