Debiec helps Howland advance to district semifinal

HOWLAND – To Howland Tigers right fielder Ryan Debiec, hitting ninth in the batting order means approaching each plate appearance with the mentality of a lead-off hitter.

The idea is to get on base and set the table for the high average hitters that follow at the top of the order.

In a 4-2 Division I sectional final win over the Boardman Spartans here Friday, Debiec did more than set the table. He drove in the winning run with a single in the bottom of the sixth inning that scored Kyle Watson.

“I cleared my head and knew I had to put it into play,” Debiec said. “We just have to put the ball into play. Good things happen when you do that.”

The Tigers started the bottom of the sixth quiet enough with two pop ups off Spartans starting pitcher Eddie Crump. Watson got things rolling with a sharp line drive that slipped under the glove of diving center fielder Nico DiIanni. The ball rolled nearly to the fence to give Watson a stand-up triple.

Debiec, who had a single an inning earlier to spark a one-run rally that tied the score, lined a double to send Watson home with the go-ahead run. John-Mark Weisman followed with a single that scored Debiec.

“We want to work the count, and toward the end I think that started catching up on Crump,” Tigers coach Sean Price said. “He’s getting lots of 3-2s, 3-0s and 2-0s; a lot of hitter’s counts. Anytime you’re pitching backwards like that, it’s in the hitter’s favor.”

The second-seeded Tigers (15-9) will play top-seeded Aurora Thursday at 4 p.m. at Cene Park in Struthers in a district semifinal. The Spartans were ousted from the tournaments with an 11-14 record.

Senior Jake Froats spread five singles to earn the win. Froats was in control most of the way, allowing only one walk and hitting a batter. He struck out two.

Froats’ mindset was to not worry about overpowering the Spartans. He wanted to get the ball over the plate and let the defense behind him do its job.

The plan worked perfectly as Howland infielders combined for 13 assists. Watson had an outstanding game at shortstop with five assists and two putouts, including a leaping catch of a line drive by Joe Lendak that was headed for the gap in left center field with two outs, runners at second and third and two runs having already scored in the third.

“He’s got a little bit of a vertical,” Price said of Watson. “We’ve been waiting to see it all year. We thought it was a hit. I looked up and all of a sudden the ball disappeared in his glove. I think he jumped at the same time the ball was over his glove. It was perfect.”

The happiest person on the field after Watson’s defensive gem was Froats.

“My approach was to get ground balls and pop flies, and that’s what happened all game,” Froats said. “We caught a few liners. It all worked out well.”

Boardman scored both of its runs without the help of a hit. Steve Bott reached safely on an infield throwing error leading off. Bott advanced to second on another error, but he was forced at third on a grounder to Froats by DiIanni.

Scott Lendak reached on a fielder’s choice and Froats hit Phil DiIanni to load the bases. A walk to Crump scored Nick DiIanni, and Scott Lendak scored on a ground out by Brian Fryda.

The Tigers got on the scoreboard in the fourth when Tyler Spain, who had three hits, led off with a triple to right field. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Froats.

Debiec had a great at-bat leading off the bottom of the fifth, working the count full and eventually lining a single. Pinch runner Luciano Romeo move to second on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Kurtis Kuszmaul.

“It was one of my better days,” Debiec said. “Today I felt more relaxed. I just cleared my head at the plate and let it happen.”