The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

May 14, 2014

Pirates squeeze past Spartans

Suicide squeeze propels Perry to D-II sectional final

Staff Writer

PERRY TOWNSHIP — It isn’t often that a team tries a suicide squeeze, and even less frequently does it work.

So when Perry coach John Grdina called for Nick Collins to squeeze with the bases loaded and 1 out in the bottom of the 7th with his Pirates trailing Conneaut, 4-3, in a Division II sectional semifinal, it wasn’t shocking that Collins’ attempt went foul.

However, Collins gathered himself and dropped a single into center field to tie the game.

Then, in the next at-bat, something never seen in baseball occurred with Joe Velecheck at the plate.

Grdina called for a second consecutive squeeze and Velecheck got the bunt down, bringing home Mason Martin sending the Pirates to a Division II sectional championship game at Edgewood today.

“I’ve never called two suicides in 1 inning before,” Grdina said. “After getting two strikes, (Collins) did a good job of getting that single. After Joe Velecheck had a swing and one strike, I said ‘let’s just do it again. Let’s just win the game now and put it to bed.’ ”

“That’s what you gotta do, got 1 out? Why not try it?” Conneaut coach Rich Shields said. “If it doesn’t work out on their part, then they have 2 out. It was a gutsy call, a great call. That’s how you win the game.”

The decision paid off, capping a 3-run rally for the Pirates as they overcame a 4-2 deficit beginning in the bottom of the sixth.

Perry (12-13) looked to be in trouble as Conneaut starting pitcher Joey Burt kept them off balance through the first 5 innings, allowing just 2 runs on 5 hits while striking out 7 and walking none.

The Spartans’ offense seemed to feed off Burt’s good start as they broke open to a 2-2 in the top of the sixth.

Ryan Oatman led off the inning with a walk and Isaiah Ngiraingas followed with a single.

Alex Taylor smacked a double to right center to plate Oatman and that chased Perry starting pitcher Cody Ewing from the game.

Velecheck came on in relief as Sam Distelrath hit a sacrifice fly to center to score Ngiraingas.

That was all the Spartans (5-16) could muster against Velecheck (5-3) as he sat down six of the seven batters he faced.

“I think Joe got his confidence back,” Grdina said. “He had 3 not Joe Velecheck-like performances the last few times he’s been out. To get that win for him is just a boost because we need him in the playoffs. It’s big for him.”

Meanwhile Shields made the decision to take Burt out as his pitch count crept towards 90 on a hot day, turning to reliever Mikey Teed.

Teed loaded the bases with no outs before getting Cody Ewing to pop out to center, but it was deep enough to plate Ryan Kahoun and cut the Conneaut lead to 4-3.

He retired the final two batters to get out of the jam.

Teed was pinned with the loss after giving up two runs in the seventh.

Shields admitted he wasn’t positive he shouldn’t have let Burt go deeper into the game.

“He was up around 80-some pitches and it was 80 degrees out there today,” he said. “I saw a little bit come out of his fastball in the bottom of the fifth. Decided to make a little move, it might have been the game.

“Maybe I should’ve kept him in for one more, maybe that would’ve made the difference. I don’t know.”

Perhaps bigger than any pitching decisions was the Spartans’ issue with leaving runners on base throughout the game.

Conneaut loaded the bases with one out in the top of the first, but Ewing induced a 1-2-3 double play to end the threat.

While the Spartans were able to plate two runs in the top of the second thanks to a Burt single and C.J. Rice’s fielder’s choice that scored Taylor, they stranded two runners in the inning.

Much like the first inning, after getting runners on first and second with no outs, Ewing got a strike out then forced a 4-6-3 double play to any threat in the top of the fifth.

“I think a big thing that happened is we turned two double plays,” Grdina said. “I think we’ve turned three or four double plays all year. So that’s huge for us. It’s what kept us in the game. This was fun, we were on a six game losing streak. I told the guys all we have to do is get the monkey off our back then good things are going to happen.

“I’m really happy we won this way because that can propel us into the next game and the one after that.”

The loss caps a frustrating year for Conneaut in Shields’ first season, in which he saw his team lose nine games by two runs or less.

“We’re right there in most of our games,” he said. “Those nine games, that’s 18 runs, that makes a huge difference. But it is what it is.”

The win gives Perry a shot at redemption as its season ended last year at Edgewood in a Division II sectional final, as well.

“Last year, overall we weren’t as good as hitters last year,” Grdina said. “This year we have a lot of juniors with experience so I feel pretty confident to have better success tomorrow over there.

“I really do think (momentum) plays a big part, sports is all about momentum. Whoever gets hot is usually the one that keeps it going so I’m just hoping to keep a winning streak going.”