By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP —
For a while, it looked like the Conneaut Spartans and Jefferson Falcons were going to destroy themselves from the start of their doubleheader at Cotton Field on Saturday afternoon.
Both teams struggled at the onset, but the Falcons put it all together to claim a 7-6 eight-inning win in the first game. With solid pitching and superb defense for both teams in the second contest, Jefferson again emerged victorious with a 4-2 victory, completing the sweep.
“I thought we played some pretty good baseball when Conneaut had something going in the first game,” Falcon coach Scott Barber said. “We got pitching when we had to have it. Ryan Zindash did a gritty job for us in keeping them from getting big rallies going.”
Zindash did not have his sharpest control, walking eight in just under five innings while allowing only three hits.
“We always want to beat Conneaut,” he said. “I may have had my competitive juices flowing a little more today, simply because it’s Conneaut. They always play us tough, and it’s a great rivalry. It was important to win today for seeding for the tournament coming up. I was fortunate that my defense made some big plays behind me.”
The overall team defense early in the game got Zindash in trouble, including a trio of errors in the top of the second that gave the Spartans a brief 2-1 lead.
Conneaut also had problems holding or catching the ball in that first contest.
After Jefferson responded to that 2-1 Spartan lead with two runs of their own in the second, a three-run third for Jefferson, fueled by a pair of Spartan errors and only one hit, opened a 6-2 lead for the home team.
Conneaut fought back with single runs in the fourth and fifth and a pair of unearned runs in the sixth on the last of five Falcon errors.
At that time, pitching and defense took over.
First, Ethan Pawlowski stopped the Spartans in relief of Zindash in the fifth, then Coltin Wilber came in and slammed the door with two perfect innings out of the bullpen.
Cody Martin and Tyler Cox slowed the Falcon offense, too, for coach Walker Graher.
“I can’t remember how many men we left on base,” he said. “I know we left the bases loaded twice in the first game, and left at least a couple on in the other innings. Scott has a nice team of hitters this year. They always put the bat on the ball and make you play defense.
“We had problems in the first game, but I was really impressed with how our kids played in the second game. It would have been easy to hang our heads, but we put it together and did a great job in the second game.”
After a two out, bases loaded walk and an infield out tied the first game in the sixth, it came down to the bottom of the eighth.
Appearing like it could go nine frames, Scott Davidson of Jefferson, with four hits already, took one in the shoulder for the team. After stealing second, Joe Piscsalko drilled a full-count pitch from Tyler Cox toward right field. First baseman Joe Teed stretched with all his might to grab it, but the ball glanced off his glove and Davidson raced home for the clincher.
“I usually get the ball late in games,” Wilber said. “I like to come in when it’s a close game too. I love the pressure situations and have great confidence in the defense behind me.”
That confidence carrried over into the second game for Falcon starter Tristan Hayford.
The sophomore went the distance while allowing six hits and fanning seven. A key was that he didn’t issue a single walk after he put a pair on in the first inning, when the Spartans (9-7) tallied their first run.
Conneaut also got a strong game from starter C.J.Rice in the second game, making for a much quicker and intense ballgame.
“I’m so proud of how C.J.Rice pitched in the second game,” said Graher. “He is a competitor all the way. He competed and threw strikes. Jefferson is a good hitting team, but they earned everything they got in the second game.”
Hayford also was solid in the whole way through.
“Coach kept telling me to follow through and throw strikes,” the sophomore righthander said. “He kept reminding me to keep my head clear and think about what I was doing.”
In allowing six hits, he had trouble with Troy Colucci, who had three singles.
Jefferson (11-5) broke a 1-1 tie with a run in the fourth. Chris Wittenmyer doubled down the right field line, moved up on a fly ball, and came home as Jesse Skvarek drilled a single up the middle.
A pair of singles after a Pawlowski grounder went through the wickets at first base leading off the fifth tallied a pair of runs, and they proved important as Colucci singled, moved up on an error in the outfield, and came home on Mike Mirando’s sharp single to left in the seventh off Hayford.
Consecutive fielder’s choices on the infield closed out the double dip win for Jefferson.
Pawlowski, Davidson, and Wittenmyer each had two hits.
Davidson had four singles in the opener while scoring twice and driving home a pair, and Piscalko’s two hits plated three runners.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.