Eagles batter Lisbon ace, advance to final

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon John F. Kennedy’s Gavin Shrum, left, slides safely into home as Lisbon catcher Blake Reynolds applies a late tag during the first inning Tuesday. JFK won the game, 8-2.

STRUTHERS — John F. Kennedy’s Cameron Hollobaugh just smiled and gave a nod when asked about matching up with Lisbon’s Logan Bell in a Division IV Struthers District semifinal.

Bell is a hard-throwing right hander and a University of Akron recruit, and he seemed to be the headline coming into the sixth-seeded Blue Devils’ matchup with No. 2 JFK.

Hollobaugh and the rest of the Eagles were just fine with that.

JFK knocked Bell around early and often, and Hollobaugh outshined the senior pitcher in an 8-2 victory for the Eagles at Cene Park on Tuesday. They play top-seeded Springfield in the D-IV Struthers District championship at 5 p.m. Thursday.

“As the underdog, it’s a better victory when you win,” said Hollobaugh, a sophomore. “It makes you feel better. It surprises everybody.”

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon John F. Kennedy’s Cameron Hollobaugh delivers a pitch during the Eagles’ 8-2 victory over Lisbon on Tuesday.

The Eagles (19-5) didn’t seem too surprised by Bell’s fastball.

They scored twice in the first inning, taking advantage of wildness by Bell and sloppy play by the Blue Devils (12-14-1). A leadoff walk was followed by a single, and a wild pitch allowed both runners to move up. As the catcher corralled the errant pitch, he rushed a throw to third that went up the line, allowing one run to score and another to move to third. Hollobaugh then hit a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.

“Anytime we’re able to get out to a quick start, we do well,” JFK coach Tom Elder said. “When we stay aggressive, we do well. We have some team speed, so we try and take advantage of that.”

Kennedy didn’t let up.

They added two more runs in the second inning. Alex Hernandez led off with a double deep down the right-field line, and after a single put two runners on, Jordan Edmondson crushed a high fastball to left-center field for a two-run double. That made it 4-0, and the Eagles essentially put the game away in the third.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon John F. Kennedy’s AJ Arp sets up to field a ground ball in the second inning of a Division IV district semifinal Tuesday at Cene Park.

Isaac Hadley doubled to deep left, Hollobaugh singled, and a wild pitch brought in Hadley. After a walk and a strikeout, Hernandez drilled a pitch over the center fielder’s head for another two-run double and a 7-0 edge. It was a backbreaking blow to Lisbon.

“I was just looking to put the bat on the ball to make something happen. I just happened to get a good fastball and put the barrel on it,” said Hernandez, who admitted he had been slumping for a good portion of the season before coming through against Bell. “It makes you feel really good, like you can hit anyone that you go against. We really prepared for him this week because we knew he was pretty good, so we were facing some fast pitching at practice. I feel like the whole team can do good against anyone.”

Hollobaugh made sure the Eagles kept their distance.

He struck out 10, walked three and allowed just three hits. The right-hander’s biggest moment came in the third. With Kennedy leading, 4-0, Lisbon loaded the bases with no one out and had the 2, 3 and 4 hitters coming up. Hollobaugh recorded a strike out, a fielder’s choice that brought in a run and a fly out to limit the damage to just one run.

That paved the way for the three-run bottom half of the inning, which put the game out of reach.

Although he’s an underclassman, Hollobaugh said he was ready for the pressure of the postseason after playing in the playoffs as a starter on the Eagles football team.

“It helps a lot, with the crowds especially,” he said. “And just confidence because I know I can do it.”

A hard-hitting lineup played a big role too.

JFK finished with eight hits — including four doubles — and it had Bell rattled from the beginning.

The performance was a rare bad outing for a player who has 310 career strikeouts — the most in school history.

“Nobody’s really hit him this year,” Lisbon coach Doug Andric said. “Toronto is in our league, and they’re a real good team. They got four or five runs against him, but besides that, this is probably the most he has been hit all year.”

Elder credited a tough schedule as the main reason JFK was able to get to Bell.

He said the Eagles have faced pitchers who throw as fast as Bell — and some faster. The reason for those tough opponents was for moments like Tuesday.

He also felt his team had a little extra motivation.

“I told our kids going in (to this game), everybody was talking about Bell, Bell, Bell, Bell,” Elder said. “Nobody’s talking about Warren JFK, which is fine. I like that. I don’t mind that. But you have to understand something: The opposing team has to score too. If they can’t score, they’re not going to win. I have two quality kids that can throw the baseball. You’ll see the other one (AJ Arp) Thursday.”