Riding a four-game win streak, Kenston baseball took a 3-2 lead against league foe Chardon in the bottom of the fifth on Friday evening in Bainbridge Township.
After a rough 0-4 start to their season in Myrtle Beach, the Bomber sluggers had just gotten their heads back to the surface with a 6-6 record, including a 4-1 mark in the Western Reserve Conference, entering the game. Chardon was 5-6 with a 1-3 mark.
Kenston junior second baseman Cory Koller singled to the left-center gap to lead off the fifth out of the two-hole, senior Jason Vasil bunted him to second, and freshman cleanup Ryan Miller lined a single to center to put runners on the corners. Senior designated hitter Craig Roch then hit a two-out RBI single to right for that 3-2 lead.
On the mound, Kenston senior captain Blaise Gorski was going strong with 86 pitches through five innings, striking out seven Hilltopper batters while giving up just two hits and three walks – two of which led to Chardon’s two runs.
“That was his best outing of the year so far, for sure,” Kenston 10th-year head coach Bob Ford said of his southpaw. “He pitched well. But the two walks he had, they both scored. But defensively there, we need to help him out a little bit.”
Chardon answered with three runs in the top of the sixth inning en route to a 6-4 victory for the Hilltoppers, who were aided by an error, a hit batsman and two mental indecisions by Kenston fielders to gain a two-run lead that the Bombers couldn’t overcome.
Chardon three-hole hitter Richie Stefancic led off the sixth with a single to left, Evan Fairbanks got aboard on an infield error, and Mitchel Cormiea laid down a bunt to load the bases with no outs, when Kenston’s fielder hesitated about which bag to throw to.
The Hilltoppers went on to score three unearned runs on an RBI ground-out to second, a sacrifice fly, and then a grounder with another no-decision throw by a Kenston fielder.
“If you don’t execute, you won’t win any of these game,” Ford said about playing WRC opponents. “When it comes time to execute, defensively and offensively, we didn’t do it today, and that cost us.”
The outcome was a series split with Chardon, after Kenston defeated the Hilltoppers, 13-11, two days earlier, behind an eight-run rally in the sixth that included five singles, three walks and three errors.
At the midpoint of the WRC season, all eight teams have at least two losses. The Bombers are the defending outright champs with an 11-3 mark last season.
During Friday’s loss, Kenston outhit Chardon, 13-7, but left 10 runners stranded. It was the Bombers’ first loss of the season where they surrendered fewer than six walks, which were their average walks per game entering the contest.
“It’s the complete opposite of what we expected to be happening,” Ford said. “We thought we’d be pitching strong, and, defensively, and maybe offensively, we’d have some challenges, and it’s kind of now been the opposite.
“I mean, when we were in Myrtle Beach, we threw a one-hitter against Chagrin, walked 10 and had four errors. But we walked 10. The next game walked 10. The next game we walked 10. Then the next game we walked nine. They just could not throw the ball over the plate. It was kind of brutal to watch, too.”
Perhaps the Bombers’ best outing of the season came from junior Ty Yurkovich, who threw a complete seven innings in an 11-4 home victory against Riverside on April 9 – helping Kenston split its series against the Beavers – tossing 70.1 percent of his 87 pitches for strikes while giving up nine hits, two earned runs and zero walks to move to 2-0 on the hill.
Although, junior Weston Gaskins had a six-inning showing on the hill during a 10-2 victory against league foe Madison on April 8, surrendering three hits, two earned runs and four walks while striking out four.
Offensively, Kenston has knocked the cover off the ball, averaging 7.1 runs through 14 games behind six guys batting over .300, including first baseman Jason Vasil, .465, 6-foot-5 freshman cleanup Miller, .419, southpaw Gorski, .406, junior third baseman Jon Tomcufcik, .378, junior leadoff Tyler Mintz, .362, and junior catcher Chase King, .313.
On Friday, Miller batted three-of-three with a walk, and Mintz hit three-of-four with a run against Chardon. Mintz is a Division I college recruit who plays center field, while Miller not only bats cleanup as a freshman but also starts at shortstop for the Bombers.
“Pretty cool, isn’t it?” Ford said of his freshman standout, who’s also a starting tight end on the gridiron. “He’s a big dude. Nothing seems to bother him too much. He doesn’t usually get down on himself. No matter what, he keeps plugging away. He’s a special player, for sure.
“And then, if you watch his swing, it’s not very good. He hits off his front foot. He’s still working on all that. When he gets that out, that dude is going to start rifling balls out into the gaps and out to the fence.”
But Kenston’s RBIs came from the bottom of the order on Friday.
After the Hilltoppers took a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth, the Bombers answered in the bottom of the inning with Ryan Miller and Tomcufcik leading off with back-to-back singles out of the four and five spots, before juniors JD Miller and King eventually knocked them home on back-to-back, two-out RBI singles out of the eight and nine-holes.
“We’re pounding the ball pretty good right now, so that’s been huge,” Ford said. “The bottom (of the order) has been getting better and better. To have the bottom do that was awesome. They’re the ones that got us in this game and got us right back. That’s nice.”
After Chardon took that 5-3 lead, unearned, in the top of the sixth, Kenston had the opportunities to do some damage in the bottom of the inning, with King leading off on a single up the gut and Mintz lining a single to center to force a pitching change, but then a bunt attempt ended up being a short pop out to first base and kept runners on first and second.
Then, Vasil lined a single to left, but King was gunned down trying to take home from second base for the second out of the inning. Mintz was able to plate a run on a passed ball and then a wild pitch to cut the deficit, 5-4, but giving away two outs kept the Bombers from doing more.
Chardon added an unearned insurance run in the top of the seventh for the 6-4 victory.
Although the Bombers’ four-game win streak was halted, they got back to the dub column with a 10-2 home victory against non-league foe Warren Howland the next day, improving to a 7-7 record.
Kenston owned a 3-2 lead through the fourth inning of that affair, before Mintz banged a grand slam on a laser to left during a seven-run fifth inning that blew the game open.
The Bombers were scheduled to travel to WRC foe Willoughby South on Wednesday, before they return home to host the Rebels at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.