The Cowle Post 151 Dugout Bruisers 18U baseball team’s quest for a state title ended on Friday in Lancaster.
The Bruisers began to rally late in their final contest against Beverly/Lowell Post 389/750, but the comeback attempt fell short and the Conneaut-based team fell 7-5.
Beverly/Lowell jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning and the Bruisers tied the game at 1-1 in the fourth. Beverly/Lowell responded with a five-run top-of-the-fifth inning, but the Bruisers continued to fight.
They scored one in the bottom of the fifth, which Beverly/Lowell quickly answered in its next at-bat, then began to rally in the sixth.
Zachary Houghtaling kicked off the frame with a double and Kevin Spehar followed with a walk. Two batters later, Benjamin Salesky walked to load the bases with one out and Matt Nicklas doubled to left, driving in two runs and cutting the deficit down to 7-4.
Salesky and Nicklas were both stranded in scoring position, though, as the inning ended with the Bruisers trailing by three.
Nick Reichek, a recent Grand Valley graduate, and John Susnik led off the seventh with back-to-back singles and the former Mustang came around to score, but Beverly/Lowell escaped the inning — and game — with the 7-5 victory.
“We’ve had five or six games this year where we were down by five runs with two innings left and came back to win,” Bruisers coach Joe Zappitelli said. “We left two guys on base in the fifth inning, with one out, on second and third. One more hit and we would’ve tied the game.”
Despite their state tournament run ending sooner than they hoped, the Bruisers enjoyed quite the summer.
They collected a 32-9 record, won their own tournament, advanced to the Littlest Heroes Championship game and fared well at the Beast of the East tournament in West Virginia.
“Winning the Region 7 tournament was huge, too,” Zappitelli said. “The biggest one of the year was winning that one. … The team was quite young. People think automatically because we’re playing 19U that we are 19U or 18U, but I’d say about 70 percent of our team was 17U this year.
“So, we were playing way up this year and I feel that if this team was together the next year or two, we built the steps to win the state championship with a little more experience. We had the talent, we just didn’t have the experience this year.”
A number of Bruisers had state experience from past years, but after combining forces with Willoughby and adding players from schools like Villa Angela-St. Joseph, Mayfield, Lake Catholic and South, most of the team was relatively green.
But, the future is bright.
The Bruisers 16U team took second place in the state. There will also be a 14U team next summer, as the Bruisers have teamed up with the Renegades.
“(The future is) really, really bright,” Zappitelli said. “... With Greg Myers, Jim Kennedy and now Steve Kray, I think that’s a great strong foundation for the future.”
Tryouts for next year’s teams will be held soon.
The 14U team’s tryouts will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 4 at Edgewood High School. Registration begins at 5 p.m. and any questions can be directed to Kray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 17U team will hold tryouts at 2 p.m. on Aug. 11 in Jefferson.
REPRESENTING THE COUNTY
The Bruisers had four recent Ashtabula County high school graduates playing for their 18U team — Edgewood's Jacob Zappitelli, Geneva’s Nick Stoltz and Grand Valley’s Logan Newell and Reichek.
Zappitelli — who helped lead the Warriors to a district championship in baseball and basketball as a senior — collected a .333 average, a .457 on-base percentage, 27 RBIs and 21 runs over the summer.
Stoltz hit .362 with a .470 OBP, 41 runs, 32 stolen bases and five triples. Also a pitcher, he went 5-1 with 40 strikeouts and a 3.19 ERA.
Newell hit .276 with a .408 OBP. He drove in 32 runs, scored 21 and notched 11 doubles, four triples and six home runs.
Reichek ended his summer with a .319 average, .440 OBP, 42 runs, 28 RBIs, 21 stolen bases, 10 doubles and three triples.