By VINCE PELUSO
For the first four innings of Conneaut’s season-opening game against Strong Vincent (Pa.), the Spartans looked like a team that hadn’t been outside yet this spring, trailing, 2-0.
There was a reason for that, though. They actually hadn’t been outside.
But the Spartans woke from their hibernation in the bottom of the fifth, thanks in part to some Colonels defensive blunders, to score four runs in the inning, earning a 4-2 home win.
C.J. Rice started the fifth reaching on an error then Ryan Oatman struck out, but reached first thanks to a passed ball.
That chased starting pitcher from Austin Traile (4-plus IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 5 K, 1 BB) from the game, but Sam Distelrath brought home Rice with a single up the middle in the next at-bat.
Dylan Marici followed with a walk and Cody Martin plated Distelrath on a fielder’s choice.
A Christian Williams sacrifice fly to right then a Joey Borgerding single up the middle gave the Spartans the 4-2 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“We’ll take whatever we can get, I tell our kids all the time I’m not looking for a homer, double or a triple, I’m looking to put the ball in play,” Spartans coach Walker Graher said. “If we put it in play, they gotta finish it off and get the out. Our kids did a good job of just putting it in play because early on, that pitcher was doing a good job of keeping us off balance. He was throwing curveballs any pitch of the count and we struggled.
“It just came down to putting it into play and we did that.”
Up to that point, Traile and Borgerding were battling it out on the mound.
Borgerding struck out six of the first 12 batters he faced in shutting out the Colonels over the first three innings.
But they broke through in the top of the fourth when Max Sebald legged out a double on a liner to right and came home on an error later in the inning.
Strong Vincent scored again in the top of the fifth when Devon McGee knocked a seeing-eye ball into right field with two outs to score Chris Lilly and push the lead to 2-0.
Colonels coach Kent Williams felt his team didn’t maximize its opportunities over the first five innings.
“We didn’t take advantage of the fact we were ahead, we didn’t score any more runs,” he said. “All of sudden we were playing not to lose instead of to win and that’s a problem. But, credit the Spartans, they came back. They were down 2-0 and this was probably one of the few times they’ve been on a ball field this year.
“The pitching was very good for their team, the lefty (Borgerding) is real good. It was a good ball game.”
All told Conneaut’s ace went five innings, fanning nine, walking two and surrendering two runs (one earned) on three hits.
“He’s our guy, I don’t want to take him for granted one bit, but a lot of the things he does we expect,” Graher said. “He did a good job of staying mentally strong, there were a couple plays where there was an error there or a play that they were fortunate on, he just maintained a good mental attitude and just did a good job.
“We’re trying to keep his pitch count a little lower than it was last year (he threw 86 pitches Wednesday), but he did a great job.”
Tyler Cox came on in relief of Borgerding to throw two scoreless innings to get the save.
“Tyler Cox coming in at the end did a tremendous job,” Graher said. “He’s a kid we’re counting on big time. He pitched two solid innings and it was a good thing to see.”
Graher was happy to see the fifth-inning rally get kicked off by the bottom of his order.
“Sam Distelrath had a key hit, Rice got on base, he was active, stole a base and moved over on a wild pitch,” Graher said. “It was great to see those guys start it off and really the guys I’m counting on and I know what to expect, they finished that inning off. It was a good team win.”
After having not been outside yet this year, Graher felt his team performed admirably.
“It was the first practice, first game outside so it was good,” he said. “There were some things you could tell that we hadn’t been outside, base running, things like that. These kids have played a lot of ball. One of the things I told them before the game was that we just gotta execute, play hard and those other things will take care of themselves.”