Rain dampens play

STRUTHERS – Momentum was hard to come by on Thursday at Cene Park – unless of course you were mother nature. She was on a roll.

Rain delayed a Division I district semifinal between Howland and Aurora – twice, actually – and temperatures more suited for a high school football game made life difficult for both teams.

Howland didn’t seem to mind the inclement weather for the first four innings, but after a rain delay of 1 hour, 8 minutes put an abrupt halt to a Tiger rally, Aurora came to life. The Greenmen battled back from a 5-0 deficit and pieced together a strange-but-effective seven-run fifth inning to end Howland’s season with a 12-6 victory. Aurora plays Austintown Fitch in the district final at 6 p.m. tonight at Cene Park. Fitch beat Chardon, 6-2, later Thursday night.

Howland’s matchup with the top-seeded Greenmen (25-4) was originally scheduled for 4 p.m., but it didn’t start until 5:20 p.m. The Tigers (16-11) took an early 1-0 lead in the second inning and seemed in control after a four-run fourth.

“We had the momentum going into it,” said Tigers coach Sean Price of the rain delay. “You don’t want to stop. We’re on top – we want to play it out.”

A steady rain didn’t allow that to happen. When the game restarted at 7:33 p.m., Howland’s Jacob Froats put the final touches on the fourth inning with an RBI single. Yet Froats, Howland’s starting pitcher, wasn’t the same on the mound. He threw his first pitch 2 hours and 13 minutes before things picked back up in the fourth, and he struggled with his command. The Greenmen scored their first run in the third and broke things open in the fifth, with most of the damage coming after Froats was pulled.

“He got cold, and the mound got a little bit slippery on him, so he had a little trouble throwing strikes,” Price said. “His velocity was OK, he just couldn’t find the zone.”

The Greenmen’s Paul Pistone hit a two-run triple in the big fifth inning to cut the lead to, 5-3, and Frank Sirillo then followed with a near-perfect suicide squeeze bunt that resulted in a single and an RBI. A wild pitch and a ground out moved Pistone to third, and with two outs, Aurora caught the Tigers by surprise by deploying another suicide squeeze. Again, the bunt was well-placed and resulted in a single and an RBI. A three-run triple by Adam Weber broke the game open, and the Greenmen added four more runs in the sixth inning for good measure.

“To put a two-out suicide squeeze on, that’s guts,” Price said. “I think what happened is once they had the momentum, things just fed into it and they started hitting the ball. They did a good job. That’s why they’re the No. 1 seed.”

The loss was a tough way for Price to see his seniors (Froats, Ryan Fleming, John-Mark Weisman and Joey Shver) go.

“They were a big part of the program,” he said. “Those kids have worked very hard. They’ve contributed since day one, and they’re good kids. We never had to worry about them getting into trouble. What I liked is they always battled. We’ve gotten beat, but they never quit any games.”