Moment is right for JFK

Eagles rally past Mathews, walk off for district title

Tribune Chronicle / Bob Ettinger The John F. Kennedy baseball team poses after claiming the Division IV district championship at Urbansky Field in Fairport Harbor on Thursday evening. The Eagles defeated Mathews, 5-4, in eight innings.

FAIRPORT HARBOR — Drew Mendik knew the moment he made contact that he was going to be celebrating a Division IV district championship with his John F. Kennedy teammates in the moments directly ahead.

Mendik drove a ball deep into the gap in right-center field to score Niall McGee from second in the home half of the eighth to complete a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over Mathews at Urbansky Field in Fairport Harbor on Thursday.

“I knew it was over the second it left the bat,” Mendik said. “It’s extra special being my senior year. It’s a way to go out with a bang. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I had to take advantage while I could.”

The Eagles (17-4) travel to Lorain to play the New Riegel-Calvert winner in a Division IV regional semifinal at Pipe Yard Stadium on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

“You can’t take anything away from Mathews,” Kennedy coach Don Lee said. “They’re a well-coached team. Every time we play them, it’s a dog fight. I told their coach I’ve been coaching 34 years, and I wish he sticks around for that long. He’s got a lot to offer.”

Tribune Chronicle / Bob Ettinger JFK starting pitcher Drew Mendik delivers to the plate Thursday against Mathews in the Division IV district final.

After his team advanced in the first semifinal on Wednesday and before the Mustangs raced home for graduation, Mathews coach Jared Terlecky had said it was going to take a couple of special plays at different points in the contest in order to win. He couldn’t have been more right.

“We’ve been through a string of emotions,” Terlecky said on Thursday. “We had the big win (on Wednesday) and then graduation. We came back today and it was an emotional roller coaster, that’s for sure.

“All I can say is I’m proud of the way we played. We played a great game. We played pretty much our best game and Kennedy played its best game. These teams locked up and gave their best effort. It came down to one play here or there. One more big play went their way. That’s about the hardest way to lose. Sometimes, you’d wish you’d lose by five or six to make it easier.”

Kennedy trailed, 4-2, following a four-run fifth by the Mustangs (15-6). Gregory Valent’s run-scoring single in the home half of the fifth cut the deficit in half heading to the sixth.

In the seventh, Isaac Hadley was hit by a pitch with one out, Valent reached on an error and Ryan Galle singled up the middle to plate Hadley and send the game to extra innings.

Tribune Chronicle / Bob Ettinger John F. Kennedy’s Alec Burzynski successfully drops down a bunt in a Division IV district championship victory over Mathews at Fairport Harbor on Thursday.

“I was trying to relax (before my turn in the box),” Galle said. “I was waiting on a fastball. I was sitting back because he was throwing a little slower and trying to hit to right field. I tried to put a good swing on it, and it got through.”

McGee singled with one out in the eighth and took second after an infield single from Alec Burzynski. That brought Mendik to the plate.

“Hits are contagious,” Mendik said. “One hit carries on to the next. I had to have a great at-bat. As long as I was confident in myself, I knew I could at least put it in play.”

“I didn’t say anything (to Galle before he hit),” Lee said. “Absolutely, it was a good approach. You know what? I had the right guy (Mendik) up to end it. I looked out at (McGee after the hit). He was heading back to the bag like he was going to tag up. I yelled, ‘Let’s go!’ I told him he was the game-winner. He had to listen to me.”

Freshman A.J. Arp came on in relief to earn the win for the second-straight day. He worked three innings, didn’t allow a run and struck out five. He yielded just one hit and didn’t walk a batter.

“Absolutely (he showed a lot of poise for a freshman in a tough spot),” Lee said. “I’m so glad he stayed under 20 pitches (on Wednesday). He’s got a very good future.”

Mendik started and struck out eight over five innings. He allowed four runs — three earned — on six hits and walked five.

The Eagles took a 2-0 lead following Mendik’s RBI single in the first and Hadley’s run-scoring groundout in the third. The Mustangs rallied in the top half of the fifth to take a 4-2 lead. Mitch Goff singled home a pair when he bounced a single back through the middle to tie the game, 2-2. He scored after Gabe Canter reached on an error on a fly ball to give Mathews the lead. Jackson Iceman singled home Jordan Brown for the two-run advantage.

“That four-run inning was nice,” Terlecky said. “Obviously, we’d like have one more there. That was big for us.”

Brown worked 2 1/3 innings in relief and took the loss. He allowed two runs on four hits and struck out a pair. Anthony Oulton left with the lead after five innings. He allowed two runs on six hits, struck out two and walked four.