By MIKE SHAFFER
For the Star Beacon
There is the good, the bad and the ugly.
Well, actually Grand Valley baseball coach Russ Bell would be the first to admit that the Mustangs sectional final game against Garfield featured, little good, a lot of bad and a whole lot more of the ugly as the G-Men (12-13) defeated the Mustangs (16-7, 14-3 NAC) 10-2 in a Division III sectional championship game at GV.
“The best thing about this is we still play one more game tomorrow,” Bell said. “If we win we win a share of the conference title. I do feel bad for our seniors though, because they were really looking forward to this tournament. We’ve played well most of the season. But they (Garfield) swung the bats well and took advantage of our mistakes.”
The Mustangs defense committed seven errors, leading to four unearned runs being scored.
“Unfortunately, we let things kind of snowball,” Bell said. “That’s been an issue for us this year. We’ve had a lot of one or two error games or no error games. But then we’ve had a few where we make three or four and we can’t stem the tide.”
The tide started rolling in the first inning for Garfield. Tim Schwan led off the game by reaching on an error. Then Michael Schuster hit a pop-up into the gusty wind that the Mustangs infield let drop. Two batters later, Garfield’s starting pitcher Nick Kaiser lined a single to left field to score a pair of runs.
In the second inning Schwan got his first of two hits on the afternoon with a double to right field to score a run. Schwan scored on an error off the bat of Schuster. Schuster then came home on an RBI single by Nick Jurcevic to put Garfield up, 5-0.
Throughout the game every time Grand Valley made a mistake, the G-Men took advantage.
“That’s something we’ve talked about a lot this year,” Garfield coach Beau Norton said. “With a young team like we have, it seems that’s just as apt to happen to us. When you have a young squad, you get down early and you don’t have those seniors to provide the leadership that’s been there before that’s come back in those types of games. We wanted to get out early, score some runs, and put some pressure on their defense.”
Garfield scored again in the fourth inning with the help of a Grand Valley mishap. With one out Schwan hit his second double of the game. He moved to third on a throwing error and came home on a sacrifice fly to center by Chase Chapman.
Meanwhile as the Grand Valley defense struggled, Garfield played flawlessly. Jurcevic gobbled up everything hit his way at shortstop. In the bottom of the fourth, centerfielder Travis Patterson made a great running catch in left center to take extra bases away from Nathan Wengard.
“It’s key for us to make plays behind our pitchers,” Norton said. “As good as Nick Kaiser and Tim Schwan are pitching wise; they’re not going to strike out 13 or 14 guys a game. For Travis to run that ball down in the gap was huge. He has tremendous speed and is a senior leader. When Jurcevic is making plays at short it gives our pitchers confidence to throw more strikes and challenge hitters.”
Grand Valley threatened in the third inning when they loaded the bases on a pair of walks and a single by Josh Kovats. Kaiser however got Stanley Sirrine on a fly ball to right to end the threat.
Garfield added two more runs in the fifth with the help of three more Mustang errors. Then they scored two more in the sixth as Kaiser had an RBI double driving in his third run of the game.
Grand Valley got on the board in the sixth when Sirrine walked and later scored on an RBI single from Matt Moodt.
The Mustangs scored their second run in the seventh when Tim Steed singled and scored on an RBI ground-out by Sirrine.
Wengard took the loss on the mound for the Mustangs as he worked five innings allowing five earned runs on five hits while striking out 7 and walking two plus a hit batter.
Kaiser got the win for Garfield going 51⁄3 innings allowing a run on three hits. He recorded five strikeouts and walked three.
The G-Men return home to take on Windham tomorrow before advancing to the district tournament next week. Grand Valley will play their final game of the season today when they host Southington.
“I had to remind the team that there’s a good chance we’ll play that game,” Bell said. “Hopefully we can put this one behind us and end the season the right way, end it a way that’s a little more indicative of how we’ve played this year.”
Shaffer is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.