MECCA - Throughout this baseball season, Maplewood's Kevin Jones has been unfortunate when on the mound for the Rockets. The junior pitcher recorded losses while giving up a couple of runs over seven innings, not getting the run support necessary.
On Thursday afternoon, Jones had no shortage of run support and put on an 11-strikeout performance, as the Rockets beat archrival Bristol in a Division IV sectional final, 7-0.
"He's pitched pretty good all year, but he's had some tough luck," Maplewood coach Mark Trevelline said. "He lost 1-0, he lost 2-1, he lost 3-1. He's just never had much run support. We knew he'd throw good tonight. We got some timely hitting here. The second time around, we hit the ball real well."
Although his coach expected a good performance out of the junior, the top of the first started off rough for Jones and the Rockets (16-10).
With an error allowing leadoff batter Johnny Simcox to go to third base, the Panthers (9-11) managed to get four runners on base and created a bases-loaded, two-out situation. Jones ended Bristol's best chance in the entire game, however, by striking out designated hitter Dustin Orr.
This marked the end of Bristol's best chance of the game, as only two Panthers made into scoring position after the first.
"Jones is a really good pitcher," Bristol coach Jeff Thompson said. "We knew that we were going to have limited chances. First inning, we got guys on, loaded the bases and weren't able to get anybody home. I thought that was pretty big."
Once the Maplewood defense settled down, the bats woke up and scored all seven runs in a three-inning span.
The Rockets rattled off six hits in the bottom of the second - all singles and all but one that went right up the middle - to score four runs, and left fielder Mike Palm capped off the scoring with a solo home run in the fourth. Palm's home run was the first-ever home run hit over the fence since moving the field to Mecca Park last season.
With Jones' pitching, this was all the Rockets needed for the win.
"I knew that my team was going to come around," Jones said. "We play shaky always at the beginning, but we're always going to come around and finish the game."
With the loss, Bristol's last game will be a makeup against Pymatuning Valley today. After winning eight of their previous nine games before the loss to Maplewood, Thompson said he's happy with how the team turned it around this season.
"I'm very proud of where we're at right now," Thompson said. "From where we started this season to where we're at, these kids have worked extremely hard. For us to win nine games, for us to play in a sectional final, that's a credit to what these kids have done this year."
As for Maplewood, the Rockets extended their streak of advancing to at least the district semifinals to 12 years, and they will face Cuyahoga Heights on Wednesday at Euclid High School. While continuing the streak is nice, Jones said the team hope to do more than just get there.
"It feels pretty good," Jones said. "10 years in a row - let's make a run this time."