NILES - If you want to see high school baseball played at its best, wait until May.
For now it's not always a pretty sight, which sums up the Howland Tigers' 9-8 All-American Conference, American Division win over Canfield Cardinals Monday at Eastwood Field. The teams combined to commit 11 errors, including seven by the Tigers.
Fortunately, for Howland first-year coach Sean Price, the Tigers had some timely hitting to rally from a two-run deficit with three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. With a one-run led entering the seventh, Price called on closer John-Mark Weisman to put the finishing touches on the win.
"None of us are outside enough, so we get our practice in games right now," Price said. "So when you start seeing balls in the infield, you don't know how to react to it until it's actually hit to you. It's a slow process. Most teams don't get into game shape until about mid-April."
The Tigers remained undefeated at 5-0. The Cardinals slipped to 1-4.
Jake Froats opened the bottom of the sixth with a walk off reliever Dylan Williams. Ryan Fleming followed with a single, which forced Cardinals coach Matt Koenig to replace Williams with Josh Tancer.
Joey Shver, who had three hits, walked to load the bases. Kyle Watson then singled in Froats and pinch-runner Evan Steele to tie the score at 8-8. Ray Hill, pinch-hitting for Matt Doan, drove in Shver with a sacrifice fly to left field.
The Tigers had 10 hits off four Canfield pitchers, including two each by Fleming and Tyler Spain. None of the Howland batters struck out.
"The biggest thing we've done is - when you look through the scorebook there have been a ton of two-strike hits," Price said. "We teach these kids that with two strikes we're going to choke up, drive the ball through the middle and put good wood on the ball.
"We preach, make them make a play on us. Make them make the errors. We have to put pressure on the defense."
Weisman, the lead-off hitter and second baseman, retired the side in order to preserve the win. Price feels confident when he turns to Weisman.
"He drops his angle. His arm is in a different slot every pitch," Price said. "He has a nice, sharp breaking ball, a real good changeup and he can locate his fastball."
This is Price's seventh season with the Tigers. He hopes to bring continuity to a program that has had three head coaches in the last four seasons.
"One of the things I try to tell these guys is I'm trying to keep it from being a new coach every other year," Price said. "In the past we've had guys come two years here; one year here. You can't develop continuity or a philosophy."
The Tigers sent 10 batters to the plate in scoring four runs in the first inning, driving Cardinals starter Alec Buchenic from the mound. The key hit was a two-run single by Fleming.
Canfield scored two unearned runs in the second off Froats, but Howland responded with one unearned run in the bottom half of the inning. The Cardinals added four runs in the third, four of which were unearned, to take a 6-5 lead.
The Tigers tied the score in the bottom of the third on a sacrifice fly by Weisman that scored Shver. The Cardinals scored one run in both the fourth and fifth innings on wild pitches to take an 8-6 lead.
Froats gave up eight hits but just two earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. Shver worked 1 1/3 innings for the win.
"I think he was tired," Price said of Froats. "He's coming off only three days rest. We're short on pitching right now."
The teams meet again today in Canfield.