Champion is district champion

LEAVITTSBURG — AJ Meyer’s walk-off double earned the Champion Golden Flashes baseball team a Division III district title game victory, 8-7, over Hawken School on Wednesday afternoon at LaBrae High School.

The win marks the first district championship for any Trumbull County baseball team since the 2009 Flashes.

“I took time out and talked to AJ when (Hawken) made the pitching change,” Champion coach Rick Yauger said. “I said, ‘The pressure’s on (the pitcher). You relax at the plate, all the pressure’s on him. You don’t have any pressure, we’ve already tied the game. All you have to do is look for something that you can drive.”

Champion (23-3) trailed, 7-4, entering the bottom of the seventh inning. Lucas Nasonti started off the inning with a chopper to the right side and the second baseman was unable to make the throw in time as he was drifting into the outfield.

Kyle Forrest then hit a ball to the left field gap, before Michael Turner hit a chopper down the first baseline, past a diving first baseman. The Hawken right fielder, however, misplayed the ball, allowing Nasonti and Forrest to score, cutting the deficit to one run.

Aaron Williams then flied out to shallow right field, and Turner, who had reached third on the error, decided to tag. The throw took a bad hop and went to the backstop, and Turner scored the tying run.

Following a Drake Batcho walk, Hawken proceeded to replace starting pitcher Jimmy Clark with reliever John Byrne, who faced Meyer. Meyer blasted a double to the left field fence, as a charging Batcho came all the way from first base and slid in just in time to beat an accurate throw and give the Flashes the victory.

The win marked the second day in a row that the Flashes had to rally from at least four runs down, as their greatest strength–pitching, struggled once again.

“Well, I’m still riding a pretty good high to be honest with you,” said Yauger, laughing. “It’s a tremendous honor to get an opportunity to coach this baseball team. This is a phenomenal group of kids who, one thing they’ll never do, is quit. Never. They’re never going to quit, and you’ve seen that yesterday and we saw it today.”

The Hawks (21-5) made it an uphill battle for Champion in the early going, as they put up five runs in the top of the third. A Will Rowley RBI single plated the Hawks’ first run, while a fielder’s choice and doubles by Byrne and Eli Ehrbar quickly made it a 5-0 advantage.

Champion, however, did the same thing it did the day before against LaBrae–respond in the bottom half of the inning. A Turner chopper past Clark scored Justin Taninecz, while a Wiliams flyout in right field resulted in the right fielder dropping the ball on the transfer to his hand, adding a second run on the board.

Finally, Batcho blasted an RBI double to the left field fence to cut the Hawken lead to 5-3. Eventually, the score was 6-4 in the top of the seventh, when, with two outs, a passed ball and an errant Turner throw to third brought in Clark to make it a three-run Hawks lead.

However, it was not to be for Hawken. Coach Aaron Brandt drops to 0-6 in district title games, as the 14th year coach was visibly dejected after the game.

“I wish I could answer it,” Brandt said. “We’ve had so many different ways that we’ve lost in the title game.

“This one hurts a lot, because we were there and we came out, we were aggressive, we did everything we needed to do. In the last inning, (Champion) took advantage of a couple of times we didn’t make plays.”

The Flashes now become the first Trumbull County baseball team since 2009 to advance to the regional level. The Flashes will play in Massillon next Thursday afternoon against Lakewood District champion Lutheran West, a No. 4-seed, which dismantled Kirtland, 22-2, on Wednesday.

“We’re gonna get a chance to reset, and we’ll get the big lefty (Batcho, the team’s ace). We’ve got our 1-2 that’s gonna be available for us now,” Yauger said. “You can’t change the way you play now. We are who we are, and you have to play to your strengths and hope that your strengths are good enough to win the baseball game.

“You can’t get too concerned about scouting and game planning. It’s about who comes out that day and plays better for seven innings. It’s about who plays better for 21 outs, because as you see, sometimes outs 19, 20 and 21 are the hardest to get.”