By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
\Thunder wasn’t just part of the weather patterns surrounding the Little League State Tournament at Cederquist Park on Tuesday. It was also a big part of the action on the diamond.
Thunderstorms could have stolen the show, but a superb effort from Frank Cole’s grounds crew on Saturday put the host Ashtabula Little League into a position to get the fields in top shape quickly after the deluges, then the action got heavy.
In the loser’s bracket games, Wheelersburg exploded immediately after play was resumed with Washington Court House to claim a 12-2 win. The loss sends WCH home after a great effort in the tourney.
“I thought we were about ready to break it open before the storm hit,” Wheelersburg manager Chris Carter said. “We had two guys on and nobody out and our best hitters coming up. I felt good about our position, but you never know what will happen with these kids.”
What happened was a pair of six-run innings against a stunned WCH squad that had done the same thing to the host Ashtabula team the day before, using a 10-run first to eliminate the hosts.
The role was reversed this time. Starting with a 1-0 count, Gage Salyers took another wide pitch from Evan Upthegrove before sending the next offering into a mammoth gap in right-center that scored both runners.
Athan Temponares capped the rally with a huge drive over the right-field fence on Tulino Field, and all WCH could do was blink in wonderment.
Two more homers in the top of the fourth sealed the outcome. Salyers ripped a two run shot to right-center, and Connor Mullins, the winning pitcher who was locked in all day no matter the weather, drilled a three run drive to left center.
WCH manager Rick Hall couldn’t do much to change the outcome after the rain delay.
“After those storms hit, we just went flat,” he said. “I was really glad to see those two kids for us hit those home runs in the last inning. We didn’t play well, but those two plays gave us something really to leave this great tournament on a positive note anyway.”
He referred to consecutive blasts in the bottom of the fourth by Brady and Jarred Hall.
The other game was eerily similar to this game. Played on Nappi Field, Maumee’s Mathew Dalton drilled a long homer in the bottom of the first to give his team a 1-1 tie with Avon after one inning. It stayed that way until shortly after resumption of play after the first downpour.
Still tied after four and a half innings, the wheels fell off the wagon for Avon.
Blake Hazard drilled a grand slam to untie the contest, and before Avon could end the bleeding, Carter McGannon followed with a solo shot and Austin Pauken also drilled a long ball.
Meanwhile, a trio of Maumee hurlers limited Avon to a pair of hits by Cooper Docherty, and Jack Roesch scored their only run in the first inning.
The second storm of the day hit in the early part of the evening games.
A powerful Guernsey County squad had problems with focus after play resumed, and Boardman turned in a 14-run third inning, capped by a grand slam from Troy Waszilewski, into a 15-1 thumping.
“When you hit the ball, good things can happen,” Boardman manager Brian Fonderlin said. “I think their first pitcher had us off balance the first couple innings. He was fast and good, but I preach to the boys to be patience and make each at bat count. We got through the delays with our focus intact.”
The big third frame included nine hits and only two errors, but seven wild pitches, four walks, and a general shell-shocked look in their eyes doomed Guernsey to the loser’s bracket.
“We’ve had problems at times if we make an error or two quickly,” Guernsey manager Jeff Neff said. “It will snowball on us in a hurry, and the kids, young as they are, just don’t rebound from it well.”
The win sends Boardman to the winner’s bracket final on Thursday at 3 p.m. on Tulino Field against the crew from New Albany, which battled to the early darkness against a powerhouse team from Hamilton and escaped with a thrilling 10-9 win.
New Albany tallied four runs to grab a quick lead. Sparked by a pair of hits from Caleb Owens, Gage Retherford, and Cameron Tenhunfeld, down 7-5 to NA heading into the top of the sixth inning, Owens instantly changed the momentum with a mammoth grand slam home run over the fence in right center field. The shot, among many over this tournament from all 11 teams playing, wound up almost hitting a groundskeeper working on Nappi Field’s pitchers mound.
With great plays for both teams keeping fans screaming all the way to the dusk time of day, Owen’s homer seemed to be a game winner.
Keeping new white baseballs in play, the umpires kept playing.
Leading off the bottom of the sixth inning for home team New Albany, Parker Thompson drilled a long two run homer to tie the score and test the emotional limits of everybody.
Up stepped Ben Smith, and he laced a line drive to center field to end it and cap a great day of baseball and momentum shifts that led to quality matchups in future games in the tournament and some long rides home for some of the losers.
Peyton Pennington and Owens slammed homers for Hamilton. Penninton scored three times.
Thompson led the New Albany attack with three hits, three runs, and a pair of long balls. Smith had two hits, including the game winner, and Will King had three hits.
Wednesday action includes two games, both at 3 p.m. Both involve games in the loser’s bracket.
On Nappi Field, Guernsey and Wheelersburg will do battle. To this point, this reporter gives an edge to Wheelersburg, based on momentum. Again, dealing with kids this age, though, anything can happen. Guernsey has talent.
On Tulino Field, Hamilton will attempt to come back from its thrilling loss to New Albany when it battles Maumee. This game should feature some big time hitting from both teams, making pitching and defense the keys.
New Albany and Boardman are set to do battle in the winner’s bracket finale on Thursday at 3 p.m. on Tulino Field.
Winners from todays games tangle on Thursday as well, at 3 p.m.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.