Kennedy survives close victory over Maplewood

Tribune Chronicle / Bob Ettinger John F. Kennedy lefty Ryan Lee fires a pitch against Maplewood in a Division IV district semifinal Wednesday at Urbansky Field in Fairport Harbor.

FAIRPORT HARBOR — The best thing a coach can say following a district semifinal is that his team survived to see tomorrow, at least that was the sentiment expressed by John F. Kennedy coach Don Lee following the Eagles’ 2-1 victory over Maplewood in a Division IV district semifinal at Urbansky Field on Wednesday.

“A win is a win,” Lee said. “That’s the kind of game you have to win. You have to win a game like that. I tried to explain to the team (before the game) that beating (Maplewood) 10-0 in the regular season didn’t matter. We’re in the tournament and it’s a whole new ballgame.

“My hat’s off to (Maplewood). They played a good game. There’s not much I can say about a game like that. I can only say I’m glad we’re playing (today). (Today) is another day.”

The top-seeded Eagles (16-4) return to Urbansky Field for a Division IV district championship battle with second-seeded Mathews (15-5) at 4:30 p.m. The winner will earn a berth in the regional tournament at Pipe Yard Stadium in Lorain.

“We’re throwing our ace,” Lee said. “If they can beat our ace, they deserve it. But we’re bringing our sticks tomorrow, too.”

John F. Kennedy first baseman Michael Klaben digs a throw out of the dirt as Maplewood’s Eli Cless dives back to the bag in a Division IV district semifinal at Urbansky Field in Fairport Harbor on Wednesday evening.

The Rockets (15-10) had been on a roll and nearly pulled off what many had thought unimaginable.

“That was a good game, wasn’t it,” Maplewood coach Mark Trevelline said. “It’s always tough to lose. What’s important is we improve every year. This year, we took some big steps. We won 11 of our last 12. We’ve been playing really well. A lot of people (online) gave us zero chance to win. It was a motivating thing.

“A couple of inches can make the difference. I told the kids that’s the way life is sometimes. You’ve just got to bounce back. If you love winning, you have to accept the tough defeats. Those tough defeats will make you better. We made a lot of plays, but I guess we were one play short, or a couple of inches short.”

Drew Mendik tallied the go-ahead run after drawing a free pass to lead off the home half of the sixth. He took second, then third, on consecutive groundball outs before scoring on a wild pitch as Gregory Valent was headed to first base on his own walk.

The Rockets had knotted the score, 1-1, in the sixth after a leadoff walk to Jared Bedlion, who went to third on a one-out single by Thomas Dorsey. Frank Hiland plated Bedlion with an infield single as he beat the throw to first on a ground ball.

Maplewood right-hander Hunter Bates delivers to a John F. Kennedy batter in a Division IV district semifinal at Urbansky Field in Fairport Harbor on Wednesday evening.

A.J. Arp entered in relief of starter Ryan Lee and closed down the threat. He stayed on in the seventh to earn the win. His lone strikeout closed out the contest.

“He’s calm and he’s in the game,” Don Lee said. “He didn’t lose his cool and he kept throwing strikes.”

“Ryan pitched a pretty good game,” Arp said. “It was one run. I knew we’d come back and hit. All that was going through my mind was I needed to help Ryan and the team out. I did what I typically try and do. I threw strikes and tried to make sure I didn’t give up any solid hits. I was going to do whatever it took to get those three outs.”

Lee worked five and two-thirds in striking out 10 and walking three. He allowed the one earned run on just four hits.

“We knew he was getting tired,” Don Lee said. “We wanted him to go as far as he could go. When you get a pitcher like him pitching that type of game, he deserves for us to score more runs.”

Maplewood first baseman Collin Crowe stretches to record an out against John F. Kennedy in a Division IV district semifinal at Urbansky Field in Fairport Harbor on Wednesday evening.

“I had a good game hitting my spots inside, outside and with my slider at the back heel,” Ryan Lee said. “That was the reason they really couldn’t figure me out. I had faith that my teammates would back me up if I came in over the plate. I knew they’d make plays for me and we’d come out with the win.”

Hunter Bates took the loss for Maplewood in allowing one earned run on two hits. He struck out a pair and walked three.

“We knew to beat them we’d have to keep their hitters off-balance,” Trevelline said. “He’s our best guy to mix up his pitches. He had a good game plan and everything went well.”

Mendik also scored Kennedy’s first run as walked with one out in the bottom of the first. He promptly stole second and scored from there after a dropped third strike and a subsequent throw that sailed into right field.