By Drew Karpen
May 18, 2013 7:00 a.m. TITUSVILLE —
Year one of the Bruce Stewart era as the Meadville baseball head coach is officially in the books. Unfortunately it came with a defeat to the hands of Titusville. The Bulldogs committed three errors and allowed five unearned runs to cross the plate in a 7-3 loss at the Ed Myer Recreation Complex on Friday.
“We didn’t play as good of defense as we played all season long,” Stewart said. “We gave away too many. We have been playing good defense all year so I was shocked that we didn’t play very good at all.”
Things were looking good for the Bulldogs at the start, as they claimed a 1-0 lead in the first inning. With one out, Zach Grill jump started the offense with a single. Grill stole second and scored on a two out RBI single by senior Duncan Brode.
Thomas McCloskey was able to keep the lead intact for the first two innings before the defense collapsed behind him.
In the bottom of the third, Seth Mehlenbacher hit a dribbler to third but Trevor Smith charged the ball and looked to make a phenomenal play to get the second out of the inning. Even though the throw beat the runner to the bag, first baseman Kyle Lynch was unable to hold on to the ball.
The defense continued to struggle as the next batter reached on a fielding error. With runners on first and second and the Rockets’ big bat in freshman J.J. Bleday stepping up to the plate, it only got worse for Meadville.
Bleday took the 2-2 offering from McCloskey and sent it to the right centerfield fence for a two run triple to give Titusvile a 2-1 lead.
“J.J. has produced all year,” Titusville coach Mike Hlad said. “As a freshman I am very lucky to have a player like him playing for us. Coming into the game he was batting .512 as a freshmen cleanup hitter. It’s good to have a player like that.”
Titusville added to its lead on the next batter when starting pitcher Jayce Corklin helped himself out with an RBI single to score Bleday.
McCloskey continued to struggle in the fourth, giving up four runs on one hit in the frame.
“I was trying to work the count with him,” Stewart said. “You know a little inside outside. A couple of those pitches just got away from him. Obviously if you put guys on base and you make a mistake, you are going to pay for it.”
McCloskey put the first two runners of the inning on base via a walk and hit by pitch with the later chasing him from the mound. Freshman Trevor Smith replaced him on the mound, but didn’t fare any better. In his first batter of the game, Smith gave up an RBI single up the middle to Adam Bleday. That was followed by a throwing error on Biggs on a tough slow grounder that allowed two more runs to score for a 7-1 Titusville lead.
The Bulldogs offense finally got something brewing in the top of the sixth. Smith and Grill led off the inning with back-to-back singles, making it the first time in the game Meadville had more than one runner on base.
It looked like Williams would make it a third straight single, by his liner up the middle was knocked down by Corklin’s glove, allowing the Rockets to get the force out at second.
“We were hitting the ball hard,” Stewart said. “That was one of our better game that we had hit. We hit a lot of hard balls but not much luck. (Corklin) got a glove on a couple up the middle. You have to give him credit.”
With runners on the corners, Brode picked up his second RBI of the game with a sacrifice fly. Justin Foister tacked on the third run for the Bulldogs with an RBI single.
With the loss, the Bulldogs finished the season 4-12, but coach Stewart was impressed with how much his team grew throughout the year.
“We did grow throughout the year,” Stewart said. “Being as young as we were, I am pleased with the progress of a lot of guys. We are not far away, It is not like we are outclassed when we go play. We need to learn to focus for seven innings and learn how to finish. I was happy about how this year went.”
Rockets set for D-10 playoffs
After Friday’s win, Titusville will be riding a wave of momentum into the Class AA District 10 playoffs, thanks in large part to their seniors.
“I think this gives us a lot of confidence,” Hlad said. “This is a very senior-dominated team. These guys have been together for four years and have done very well. It’s always good to see those guys go out with a victory.”
After finishing as the co-champ in Region 4, the Rockets earned the No. 3 seed in the playoffs and will take on No. 6 seed Wilmington on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. at Slippery Rock University’s Jack Critchfield Park.
Coach Hlad hasn’t decided yet on who will be the starting pitcher but was leaning towards ace Adam Bleday.
“I haven’t decided yet,” Hlad said. “You want to get through that first game. It is a tough choice. I am very fortunate to have probably the best pitcher in District 10 in Adam, He has a 0.20 earned run average this year and is 7-0. It would be kind of stupid of me if I didn’t use him but you just have to go with the flow.”