By VINCE PELUSO
ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP —
Geneva pitcher Connor DiGiacomo sat down 19 of the first 21 Edgewood Warriors he faced during a Division II sectional semifinal game without surrendering a hit.
But, the first out of the sixth inning would be the last he’d record as Tony Magda broke up the no-hitter with a single up the middle and stole second before freshmen shortstop Matt DiDonato smacked a single to give the Warriors a 1-0 win.
DiDonato’s hit propelled his team to a Division II sectional final today against Perry at Edgewood.
“I saw an outside pitch and was just trying to hit a ball on the right side of the field so Tony could come around and score,” DiDonato said. “I knew coming into the at-bat, anything close I had to hit it and try to either move him over or get him in to score.”
The back-to-back hits from Edgewood’s No. 4 and 5 hitters was the first time either team strung together consecutive hits in the game.
For Warriors coach Bill Lipps, the key to the inning wasn’t just the hits, but the fact that Magda was able to steal second to get into scoring position.
“I thought the key to that inning was Magda stealing second,” he said. “He’s one of the fastest kids around. You hope to get him into scoring position. I really felt that Matt was the guy. Right before that pitch, I told him he was the right guy for the job. He got a ball early in the game that the second baseman made a nice play on. He had as good at-bats as anyone in our lineup today.”
Up until the sixth, DiGiacomo (2-4) and Warriors starting pitcher Alex Vencill (5-0) put on a pitching clinic.
DiGiacomo only walked two batters, while Vencill didn’t issue any free passes. Neither team got a runner past second until Magda scored.
“Two pitchers came ready to dominate today,” Geneva coach Justin Drapp said. “They both pounded the strike zone and didn’t have a lot of walks. Just one team had one more run than the other. That’s what it came down to.”
Vencill’s key was controlling the strike zone. He allowed just four hits in the game and threw first pitch strikes to 16 of the 26 batters he faced, throwing 61 of his 89 pitches for strikes (69 percent).
“I just tried to throw strikes and let the defense work behind me,” he said. “They made some great plays out there. I just kept throwing strikes, a couple they swung and missed and a couple of them we just made great plays out there.
“It was (an) amazing (game). Great defense on both sides. It was a great game to watch.”
Nicknamed “Doc” by Lipps, Vencill was surgical in his performance.
“With Doc, the way he threw out there don’t you think he could’ve gone 10 innings?” he said. “He’s so effortless down there. Never complains of a sore arm. Does his work between starts. He takes good care of his arm. There was never a chance of him leaving this game. Even when they had runners on base, there was never any danger of him giving up a run. He was in complete control of the game.”
DiGiacomo was nearly as accurate and even more effective in some ways. The only two base runners he allowed through 61⁄3 innings of work was a one-out walk in the first to Connor McLaughlin then a leadoff walk to pinch-hitter Alex Newsome in the sixth.
Edgewood looked to be threatening in that six after Newsome’s walk, leadoff hitter Andrew Graeb smacked a line drive, but shortstop Josh Sanchez snagged and fired to first for a double play that killed any potential rally.
“We played good defense today, I was really proud of my guys,” he said. “Unfortunately, we just didn’t have the bats today. Connor’s a great pitcher, he’s been my ace all year. His record doesn’t show it, though.
“He’s pitched better than his record.”
Lipps said he thought Edgewood had something in the bottom of the sixth before the double play.
“I don’t feel like we came back, it was just a matter of getting something going,” he said. “I thought we had something going when Andrew lined into the double play the inning before. I thought our guys could get something, going though.
“As a former pitcher, he (DiGiacomo) had to be thinking no-hitter. He gives up the no-hitter, then the stolen base, things had to be unraveling in his head. I feel bad for the guy, he pitched his rear end off. I really don’t think Geneva deserved to lose that game.”
DiDonato, who also made a brilliant play deep in the hole in the first inning to take a hit from Geneva, started off his freshmen season a little slow, but has came on strong as the weather warmed up.
The shortstop is now hitting .440 and has risen from ninth in the lineup to fifth.
“I started off really rough,” he admitted. “I didn’t think I’d be doing that good but I’m doing really well right now. This is a really good win for us because we haven’t won a tournament game in awhile so we’re all really happy right now.”
Lipps said he was never concerned about DiDonato adjusting to varsity baseball in the field, but wasn’t sure how he would hit.
“He’s really good,” he said. “I don’t want to jinx him or anything but he’s really good. He potentially could be really, really good. He makes a lot of plays out there, he made a play early in the game that I didn’t think he could make. He’s a very good shortstop, I didn’t think he was going to have a problem defensively. I didn’t know how he would hit the ball.
“I started him out of the nine hole and I’ve slowly worked him up because I couldn’t keep him down there. Now he’s hitting in the five hole on a very good hitting team. You’re talking about a freshmen coming in and really being one of our offensive leaders.”
Although the Eagles’ record didn’t entirely reflect it, Drapp feels the program is heading in the right direction.
“I owe a lot of that to our seniors, our older guys,” he said. “They really took good leadership and helped the younger guys. I’ve been here a few years and they’re starting to get with the flow of the program, they’re starting to think positive and believe they can do things even though we’re 6-12.
“It might not show record-wise, but out of our 12 loses, eight were within two runs and 10 were within three. So we’ve been in every ball game and I’m really proud of my guys.”
Lipps said he’s been impressed with what the coach has done with the Eagles.
“First off, Justin’s done a great job,” he said. “He’s got that team confident and believing. When DiGiacomo is on the mound he’ll do what he just did. For 6-plus innings, we were stymied to say the least. He was really good today.”
With the tournament win, the Warriors get set to host Perry today, a team they didn’t play in the regular season (their scheduled game on May 10 was canceled because of rain).
“That was our first tournament win in a long time,” Lipps said. “It’s been a while, but I just told the kids tomorrow night is another night. We come here and do our work.”