Newton Falls passes test at Eastwood Field

NILES — A sun-soaked Eastwood Field played host to Newton Falls and Liberty on Saturday afternoon.

The Tigers took advantage of a depleted Liberty roster and thrashed the Leopards 14-2, in an All-American Conference Blue Tier matchup.

“We came here with 10 guys because of ACT testing,” Liberty coach Tommy Otto said. “It is what it is. This was a huge game for both teams. Coming in, we thought we still had a chance for a league title. It’s back to the drawing board against these guys. We’ll see them again on Monday in Newton Falls. (Newton Falls starting pitcher Julian) Cunningham pitched well today, and we’ll see (Josh) Honeycutt next. Hopefully, we can split with them, and we’ll see where the records are, at the end of the year.”

The Tigers (5-3, 4-3) wasted no time getting started, scoring four runs in the top of the first. Liberty (3-8, 3-4) tallied a run in the bottom half of the inning before each team failed to score in the second. Then, Newton Falls erupted in the third.

Christian McCabe led off with a single, and Adam Honeycutt knocked him in to get things started. Cunningham then helped his own cause by smacking a double up the middle, driving home Honeycutt and Kody Dunn, making it 7-1. Next, Josh Honeycutt scored on a wild pitch, and Shayne Battison blasted one to center to drive in Nick Oyster. Senior Preston Rapczak knocked in Oyster for another run. In all, Newton Falls scored nine runs in the inning to take a 13-1 advantage. Nate Humphrey led the Tigers with four RBIs in the game.

Rapczak, whose name is pronounced rap-sack, enjoyed playing in the professional ballpark in Niles.

” It was fun. I was really looking forward to it all year,” Rapczak said. “The last time we played here was my freshman year. It was really cold, so it wasn’t very fun. We got lucky with some good weather. It was a good turnout. The announcer got my name wrong the first time I batted. I knew it was going to happen. They fixed it, and said it right the second time. The third time, he got it wrong again. I was like, ‘Yeah it happens.’ “

Newton Falls added a run in the fourth, and Liberty scored in the bottom of the inning. Max Reese and Dwight Parker each had RBI singles for the Leopards.

Cunningham, a sophomore, is a left-hander who pounds the strike zone with fastballs. He also has some wicked off-speed pitches that keep batters off balance. Cunningham went four innings, striking out seven, to get the win before giving way to Hayden Gazda, who pitched a perfect fifth to close it out.

“It was a good team win,” Cunningham said. “We’ve showed a lot of improvement since the beginning of the season. I’m just proud of my team.”

First-year Newton Falls Chad Rankin liked what he saw from this Tigers and would enjoy coming back again next year.

“Julian Cunningham is a great kid,” Rankin said. “We have a 1-A, and 1-B pitcher between him and Josh Honeycutt. When either one of them are on the mound, I have a good feeling that we are going to compete and win. It was a great experience for the kids and myself to play here at Eastwood Field. I wish we could have an opportunity to do something like this every year. For these guys, it’s almost like they’re playing in the big leagues. It was awesome.”