By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
The District 1 Major baseball championship game at Cederquist Park in Ashtabula on Saturday came down to two familiar opponents — Jefferson and Ashtabula.
Both teams have been to this scene before and with few secrets to hide, Saturday’s contest came down to execution and timing. Both teams had two big innings each with Ashtabula tossing up four runs twice and Jefferson having innings of four runs and two, which proved to be the difference as Ashtabula came from behind to claim the District 1 title, 10-7.
After spotting Jefferson a 4-0 lead in the second inning, keyed by a 2-run homer by Jake Reid over the left field fence, four run outbursts by Ashtabula in both the fourth and fifth innings gave them a lead they kept, albeit precariously.
In the fourth, an error, one of four for Jefferson, and a hit batter, set up a line drive double by Kyle Van Allen that plated the second Ashtabula run. They tallied their first run in the second via a pair of walks, a wild pitch and infield out.
Another ground out scored David Westover (two hits, three runs) to make it a 4-3 game, and Van Allen came home to tie it at 4-4 when Johnny Anservitz ripped the first of his two doubles off the left field fence. An error on Ron Nickle’s ground ball brought home Anservitz, and Ashtabula had the upper hand.
Brandon Park did not let them keep it for long. Already with a two-run double in the four-run Jefferson second, Park regained the lead for Jefferson in the bottom of the fourth with a two-run homer over the right field fence. It proved to be the last serious offensive threat for Jefferson.
“We definitely started out a little flat today,” Ashtabula manager Brian Mehalic said. “I have to give it up to Jefferson, though. They can hit the ball. It seems like we’ve played from behind throughout this district tournament this year. The fact we came out on top shows how important it is to never quit. Our kids know that. In our previous game with Madison, we had our first time for breaking out and coming from behind, and it carried over today.”
The four-run fifth inning for Ashtabula, which got them a lead they held, came on a one-out rally. Westover singled to left, Van Allen walked, winning pitcher Alec Katon also walked and Anservitz ripped the second of his pair of doubles off the third of three Jefferson pitchers on the day to regain the lead at 7-6. Nickle immediately followed that with a line drive double down the right field line for another pair of runs.
The teams exchanged single tallies and then Katon fanned the last two Jefferson hitters on called third strikes to end the game.
“We had to use more pitchers than we normally would like today,” Jefferson manager Rick Park said. “We would not have been allowed to use them two days in a row, so with this being a lose and you’re out game, we did the best we could. I think the kids learned a lot from this tournament experience. It’s not easy to drop into the loser’s bracket and come back all the way to the championship game like we did, so the kids have a lot to be proud of.”
Park led Jefferson with three hits and four RBI. Jacob Johnson had a pair of hits and scored twice, and Reid drove home a pair with his long ball.
Westover reached base all four times he batted. His pair of singles were added to a walk and hit by pitch, and he scored three times. Anservitz plated three with his pair of doubles, Katon drove home a pair with two ground balls, and Van Allen scored twice after his double and walk. Katon pitched three-hit ball in 32⁄3 innings on the mound, and fanned eight in helping his own cause.
Anservitz knew how important his hits were.
“I just wanted to get the RBIs we needed for some insurance runs,” he said of his second double. “This is my last year for majors, and I want to help my team as much as I can.”
For manager Mehalic, this was his third-straight season reaching the state tournament.
“Actually, this is my third-straight season reaching the state level,” he said. “I’ve had three of these kids make it with me, too. Zack Griffith, Alex Tulino, and Andrew Mehalic, have all played for me the last three years. It’s a great life lesson for them, and also for the kids on this team this year.”
Now comes the state tourney for Ashtabula, which will be played at Cederquist this coming week.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.