By VINCE PELUSO
JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP —
Whether it was the mistakes of a largely youthful team or just a case of bad timing, the Jefferson Falcons struggled to get hits with runners in scoring position during a Division II district semifinal final against Chagrin Falls.
It proved costly as the top-seeded Tigers snuck past the Falcons 3-2 to advance to the district championship game.
“How many opportunities did we leave out there today? Most of them with runners on second or third,” Jefferson coach Scott Barber said. “There’s your game.”
Trailing 3-1 heading into the top of the seventh, Cole Erdel led off the inning with a single then with one out Ethan Pawlowski dropped a perfect bunt down the third-base line to put runners on first and second.
Scott Davidson hit a double-play ball to short, but beat the throw to leave runners on the corners with two outs.
Joey Piscsalko kept the Jefferson hopes alive with a flare to left that left runners on second and third, but Chagrin Falls (22-7) reliever Tyler Kennedy got Kyle Ashburn to strike out swinging to end the game.
“It was a great opportunity when it came back to the top (of the order),” Barber said. “We had Scotty and Joey right where we wanted them. Then, we got second and third with two outs, and had three great swings at it, just didn’t connect.
“We played hard, but just didn’t execute.”
“That’s two pretty evenly matched teams right there,” Chagrin Falls coach Michael Sweeney said. “Both teams had great pitching, great defense. We just had a few more hits at the right time than they did. That’s about it.”
The Tigers struck first in the bottom of the fourth.
Connor Gorman led off the inning with a walk then came home on a single to center by Bryant Kennedy.
Bryant Kennedy came home on a single by Johnny Thombs to right that was misplayed, chasing starting pitcher Cole Erdel from the game and giving Chagrin Falls a 2-0 lead.
Jefferson came right back, though.
Pawlowski was hit by a pitch, then Piscsalko hit a ball to short that went between Brennan Morell’s legs, allowing Pawlowski to score, cutting the deficit in half.
Chagrin Falls tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth as Bryant Kennedy tagged on a fly ball to left by Johnny Thombs that Ashburn made a spectacular sliding catch on.
“I knew going into it, well I didn’t know it, I was hoping we didn’t need it,” Sweeney said. “But any runs you can get, even from a psychological standpoint, when you’re down one compared to down two or more, it’s a big deal. Even from that standpoint and as a coach, you can’t bunt a runner over.
“So playing from up more than one was huge.”
For the Falcons, the game came down to the inability to score with runners in scoring position.
Jefferson left runners on second and third to end the top of the first, fourth and seventh innings.
The Falcons looked to have an opportunity in the sixth inning as Wittenmyer walked to open the sixth and Chagrin Falls took starting pitcher Cam Orzen out in favor of Tyler Kennedy.
But, Kennedy made a heads-up play on a bunt attempt by Matt Barber, throwing Wittenmyer out at second.
In the next at-bat he induced a 6-4-3 double play that ended the threat.
“You look at a 3-2 ballgame and you can pick out a million what-ifs,” Barber said of the missed chances. “If I was keeping score, I think we had a lot more what-ifs than they did. But, I don’t know, you can’t play any harder. We just didn’t execute.
“We’ve had a little trouble stringing hits together and getting that clutch hit with guys in scoring position. It just hasn’t been happening. We’ve set the table very nicely, we just can’t get it finished.”
Conversely, Sweeney said his pitchers have done a nice job of working out of trouble this season.
“We’ve done that most of the year,” he said. “We’ve pitched really well. We haven’t allowed a ton of hits, but we’ll put a guy on with a walk or something and work out of it. We’re kind of used to it.”
Jefferson’s season ends with a 16-8 record and a second-straight All-American Conference title.
Although disappointed, Barber admitted it’s an accomplishment to reach the district tournament and that the future does look bright with the young cast he has returning.
“It’s a great accomplishment just to get to this point,” he said. “To think that we had a 2-1 win and a 4-2 win then a 3-2 loss, I think that makes us even for the three games. You always feel bad for your seniors and you hope your underclassmen learn from it and accept the responsibility next year.
“I think we’ll be right here again. With the depth and what the young kids have shown, it’s very encouraging.”