County’s baseball progress is evident

There have been more than a few times when this space in the Tribune Chronicle was filled with a column that pointed out how Trumbull County baseball has been terrible in the postseason for decades.

In fact, I was the one who pointed out how it has been 73 years since a Trumbull team won a state title (Leavittsburg in 1943). I also pointed out how it has been nearly 10 years since a county school won a district title (Champion, 2009)

Those facts may change over the next month, and they may stay the same. Regardless, one thing is certain: Baseball is making a comeback in Trumbull County.

Let’s start with the fact that three area teams are No. 1 seeds in their respective districts — Niles in Division II, Champion in Division III and John F. Kennedy in Division IV.

Niles (18-4), the top seed in the Division II Struthers District, has arguably been the best team in the area this year, with its only losses coming to Cardinal Mooney, Jackson-Milton, Mogadore and Lakeview — all of which are competitive teams. The Red Dragons, who recently won their second straight All-American Conference White Tier title, are powered by a pitching rotation that has a dominant 1-2 punch and a lineup that is loaded with speed, power and talent.

Champion, winner of the AAC’s Blue Tier, may be the one team that can match Niles from a talent standpoint. The Golden Flashes, now 21-3 and No. 1 in the D-III LaBrae District, also boast two electric pitchers and a loaded lineup with numerous college prospects throughout it. Their losses have been to perennial state power Western Reserve, Lakewood (a Division I school) and Chagrin Falls (a D II school).

John F. Kennedy (12-4) is a bit more unknown than the other two, mainly because the Eagles, the top-seeded team in the D-IV Fairport Harbor district, play in the North Coast League, which has mostly Cleveland-based teams in it. Their losses are to Trinity (twice), Maplewood and Columbiana. JFK’s strengths are the same as the other two aforementioned teams, however, with two power arms at the top of the rotation and a consistently productive lineup.

Throw in Howland, which is 14-5 and the No. 2 seed in the Division I Struthers District; Lakeview, 14-8 and the third-seeded team in the D-II Jefferson District; and Mathews, 13-4 and the second seed in the D-IV Fairport District, and for the first time in a long time, an argument can be made that Trumbull County baseball is as good or better than Mahoning County.

To add to what has been a great year for the county is the individual play, and some of the stats are unheard of.

Niles junior left-hander Marco DeFalco (7-0, 0.44, ERA, 82 strikeouts and three earned runs in 48 innings) is having a dream season, with three no-hitters — including back-to-back no-nos against Lakeview and Southeast, both of which are solid teams. Fellow Red Dragon, senior right-hander Tyler Srbinovich (7-1, 0.97 ERA, 68 strikeouts, 0.99 WHIP in 50 2/3 innings), has been nearly as good, creating one of the premier rotations in the tri-county area. Niles also possesses the three best hitters in the White Tier — Tre Martin (.461 batting average), Damion Coleman (.442) and Joe Gallo (.442).

Champion’s Drake Batcho, another dominant junior left-hander, has the potential to be picked in next year’s MLB Draft. The 6-4, 200-pound Batcho throws in the mid-to-upper 80s and owns a 0.45 ERA, a 0.48 WHIP and 65 strikeouts in 31 innings. Teammate Andrew Russell has the best ERA in the Blue Tier (of pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched) at 0.26. He has 55 Ks, five walks and has allowed just one earned run in 27 1/3 innings this season!

Oh, then there’s Kent State recruit Michael Turner, a catcher for Champion, who’s batting .449 with a Blue Tier-high 23 RBIs despite missing four games. Center fielder Lucas Nasonti leads the league with a .469 batting average (of players with at least 25 at-bats). Batcho is right behind Turner and Nasonti in both RBIs and average.

Not taking a backseat to anyone is Kennedy’s dominant duo — senior pitchers Drew Mendik and Ryan Lee. Mendik is 5-0 with an ERA of 0.45 and 62 strikeouts. Lee, a left-hander, holds a 0.92 ERA with 32 strikeouts and is 4-1.

The numbers are staggering, and so are the teams, so maybe — just maybe — this is the year a few of those embarrassing streaks come to an end. Even if they don’t, the marked improvement is a great sign that Trumbull baseball is on the rise.