By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
The Ashtabula Major League All-Stars won the District 1 title last weekend by taking advantage of each and every opportunity they got. But, in the first day of state tourney action Saturday, going up against a Maumee team who loves small ball and taking advantage of mistakes, Ashtabula had the tables turned on them in a tough 3-0 loss to the visitors from District 10.
“Small ball is our way of playing,” Maumee manager Dave Wells said. “We love to manufacture runs. Once we get runners on base, we love to move them along any way we can. We work hard on bunting, too.”
Although normally a sound hitting team, Maumee did not pound the ball against Ashtabula’s Andrew Mehalic. He threw strikes, but had one lapse in control in the bottom of the fourth inning when he issued all three of his walks. Unfortunately, two of them came consecutively to Braden Wagener and Matthew Dalton with the bases loaded. Those free passes took the last bit if air out of the Ashtabula sails as it battled to stay in the game.
Mehalic scattered eight singles — three of which were bunts. That gave the local boys that much more to think about as their own offense sputtered mightily against hurler Zach Wells.
Wells tossed a wide variety of curves and changeups, with an occasional fastball mixed in. He avoided problems by not issuing any walks and scattering just two hits, singles by Ron Nickle and Mehalic.
“All of our kids can pitch,” manager Wells said. “We have five house teams to build our team from, so we get some really good kids. That gives us a good edge, and then we can get the ball to our closer, things work out well for us.”
That closer is the intimidating Matthew Dalton. Starting at first base, he drove home two of the three runs for Maumee. After five innings of slow stuff from Wells, Dalton came in throwing fire, fanning all three hitters he faced to end the game.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our kids,” Ashtabula manager Brian Mehalic said. “I think we played a really good game today, but we didn’t hit the ball. That kid’s (Wells) off speed stuff kept us off balance, then they brought in the big kid throwing heat.”
The start of the game was delayed for an hour and a half due to storms that blew through the area late Friday night and early Saturday morning. A huge crew of volunteers worked diligently to make Tulino Field playable.
Defense played a big part in the game for both teams.
A Maumee rally in the second, with runners on first and second with no outs, was halted by a slick fielder’s choice forceout at second keyed by shortstop Ozzie Campbell and capped by the next hitter. He lined a shot at Campbell, who fired to Grant Kingston at third for an inning ending double play.
Ashtabula appeared to be getting the range on Wells’ offspeed pitches, but in the third, with one out, Alec Katon drilled a screamer to right center. What originally looked like a gap shot, centerfielder Bryan Pouter dashed toward the ball and made a fully stretched out grab to take the air out of the local sails. Later, Wells ripped a grounder up the middle in the third that hit second base and rolled off for a single, leading to the first run for Maumee.
“When you see some of the things some of these teams can do, you see that they get a lot of playing time together, much of it in travel ball,” Mehalic said. “We don’t get the same start as many of them do, but we still do a pretty good job of competing.”
Ashtabula continues its state tournament on Monday afternoon at 3 p.m. when it tangles with the loser of the Washington Court House-New Albany game.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.