By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP —
In a huge sign of things to come in their sectional battle with the Orange Lions, the Jefferson Falcons overcame a horrible start with the games first two hitters with big play after play at critical times. They had to, as Orange pitcher Ben Simon stifled their bats more than most pitchers had all season.
Fortunately, after superb pitching and clutch defense made the game a thriller, Brett Powers got the hit of the day with two out in the bottom of the seventh to plate the winning run as Jefferson advanced in Division II action with a 2-1 win over the Lions.
“I was looking for one down the middle that I could hit,” the senior outfielder said. “We were looking to come out strong today, but we may have been kind of flat at first. We got some great pitching, though, and some great defensive plays when we had to have them.”
Powers sent what may have been the hardest hit ball of the day off Simon right back up the middle into center field to score Chris Wittenmyer, who provided most of the Falcon offense with three walks. The Jefferson catcher led off the bottom of the seventh , took second as Ryan Zindash laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, took third on the only wild pitch of the game from Simon, and Powers ended the tilt by ripping a 1-0 pitch right back up the middle.
“They played a really good game today,” Jefferson coach Scott Barber said of Orange. “They played well enough to win. They were pumped up and ready. We may well have underestimated them big time, too, when you look just at their record. They play in a tough league, and you can see they are a good team. Simon kept us off balance very well. We were fortunate that the mistakes we made didn’t come back to bite us big time, too.”
Coming in with a 2-16 overall mark and 1-9 record in the Chagrin Valley Conference, Orange made a statement from the very start.
Sophomore Nick Abraksia, who reached base all four times he batted, led off with a single, moved up on an errant pickoff attempt at first, took third on a Zindash wild pitch, and Ben Simon brought him home with a fly ball to right.
Jefferson (15-6, 8-2 in All American Conference) could not solve the mix of Simon’s pitches, but the Lions also did not do much with the offerings of Zindash over the first five innings and then Troy Bloom over the last two.
Erratic defense, though, from the Falcons, did set up some wild situations as Orange had runners in scoring position in every inning after the first.
Six Falcon errors kept things interesting when mixed in with the five walks issued by the Falcon hurlers.
However, when it came to crunch time at each opportunity for Orange, Zindash and Bloom fired strikes and the defense made the plays.
It is hard to tell which one was the biggest, but all loomed large.
With runners at first and third in the top of the third, catcher Wittenmyer fired a strike to third base to cut down a runner trying to steal. In the fourth, after Landon Slomovitz drilled a double down the third baseline and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt, Zindash reached back and fired third strikes past the next two hitters to end that threat.
An infield error sandwiched between two singles, the first a liner to center and the second a bunt into an area where nobody could field the ball, all with nobody out, put the Falcons into a serious spot.
A fly ball to short right into the glove of Powers, another pair of strikeouts from Zindash, and it was still a 1-0 deficit facing the Falcon lineup.
Wittenmyer led off the fifth for Jefferson with his second walk of the game. After Zindash popped to short, pinch hitter Jesse Skvarek was safe on a fielder’s choice as Wittenmyer was erased at second. Powers sent a grounder up the middle to the left of second base, the shortstop started toward second base but at the last second tossed to a shocked second baseman, who could not handle the throw for an error. Ethan Pawlowski sent a routine bouncer toward second base for what appeared to be the last out.
Not this day. First the ball was muffed, then in his haste to recover to throw to first, the throw was wild. Skvarek, paying a close eye to things assuming the out was made, kept on running hard around third base for home, and by the time the Lions got the ball, the score was tied at 1-1.
Relieving Zindash while facing the first hitter of the Orange sixth, Bloom gave up a single. With one out, a wild pickoff attempt sent the runner to third, but Cole Erdel grabbed a fly ball to close the inning out.
Then came the seventh. A dropped fly ball in the outfield and messed up play on a bunt attempt set up a bloop bunt single by Jake Fekete to load the bases. However, after all appeared to be bad for the Falcons on the play, the runner rounded third too far, Wittenmyer, who had fielded the bunt, saw it and fired a strike to Pawlowski at third for the first out, and Bloom fired a third strike pitch and enduced an easy grounder to Matt Barber at first to end the inning.
Then came the Falcon seventh, and on they go to face West Geauga today in Chesterland.
“This was a game of missed opportunities for us again,” Orange coach Nick Gerhard said. “It’s the story of our season. Ben (Simon) pitched a whale of a game. He’s our number one, but you’d never know it by his won-loss record (0-6). It was a great game, and shows why you always have to play the games on the field. It was a heartbreaker, but I just told the kids it was a great game and lot of fun to take part in. Ben kept them off balance with a good mix of off speed stuff and his fastball, but our defense let him down in that one inning.”
Zindash and Bloom scattered six Lion singles while fanning 10 as the Falcons overcame those six errors. Jefferson mustered only two singles, a leadoff grounder to left leading off the fourth by Scott Davidson, and Powers got the clincher to seal the win. Wittenmyer showed a keen eye with a trio of walks. Not a normal Falcon ballgame, but as usual, they got big plays at the right time.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.