Things sound good for Howland as tourney nears

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Cardinal Mooney’s Ethan Shaw, left, dives back to first base as Howland first baseman Josh Mindek, right, awaits the pick-off throw. Shaw was out on the play, and Howland went on to win, 12-3.

HOWLAND — Walking to home plate for an at-bat can be a scary thing for the Howland baseball team because the Tigers have no idea what’s coming, but it’s not the pitcher who has them guessing.

As a player makes his way to the batter’s box, a walk-up song is played through the stereo system at Allan Segall Field in Howland Township Park. What that song might be is the scary part.

It could be a current song with some rhythm … or it could be “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry, “Call me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen, or maybe some “Baby” by Justin Bieber.

These days, none of it is fazing Howland.

“It was some girly song,” said a sneering Josh McCleery about his teammates playing a joke on him. “It was Gasolina (by Daddy Yankee) at first, and then they kept switching it up on me. But I really thrived from those walk-up songs.”

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Howland pitcher Vincent Marimpietri delivers a pitch to a Cardinal Mooney batter during their game Wednesday in Howland.

Yep, the Tigers are feeling good these days.

Howland won its fourth straight and might have sent a bit of a message to Cardinal Mooney with a 12-3 victory over the Cardinals on Wednesday. The two meet with a bit more on the line Monday in a Division II Struthers Sectional first-round matchup at Cene Park.

The up-and-down Tigers (10-12-1) are playing some of their best baseball just a few days before the postseason begins, with wins over John F. Kennedy, Crestview and now Mooney. First-year coach Zack Byler especially likes their approach at the plate after they swatted 11 hits against Mooney (7-14).

“We’re hitting the ball a lot better,” Byler said. “That was our biggest struggle before. The guys are starting to get the approach a little bit better, with a little more confidence. That’s how it goes. It’s contagious.”

The theme against the Cardinals was hitting the ball the other way, and McCleery was the catalyst.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Cardinal Mooney’s Colin Rushen looks at an inside pitch during the Cardinals’ matchup with Howland on Wednesday.

The sophomore center fielder finished 2-for-2 with two doubles and four RBIs. A right-handed hitter, McCleery sent both of his two-baggers down the right-field line. Those were two of six hits sent the opposite way, and McCleery was one of four players with two hits.

“Coach has really been pushing us to hit backside,” McCleery said. “He’s been doing that for the past two, three months, and we just started doing it lately, and it’s working.”

Everything is working as of late.

Howland starting pitcher Vincent Marimpietri tossed 4 1/3 innings, allowing three runs — one earned — while striking out three and walking three. He also played a big role in the turning point against Mooney.

The Cardinals trailed 6-2 in the top of the fourth inning, but they had the bases loaded and no one out. Marimpietri was struggling, giving up a single, a walk and hit batsman to start the inning, but he made a nice snag on a hard ground ball up the middle. He threw home for the force out, and the catcher finished the double play by firing to first base. He induced pop out to end the inning.

The Tigers added two runs in the bottom of the fourth and put the game away with a four-run sixth.

“We left a small army (on the basepaths),” Mooney coach Al Franceschelli said. “I think we had the bases loaded three times.”

Franceschelli said the Cardinals didn’t want to show much against Howland, which they also played earlier in the season at Cene, but what they did show wasn’t pleasing to the longtime coach.

While the defense was solid, committing one error, four different pitchers combined to walk 10, and the Cardinals struggled to hit with men in scoring position.

“We saved all our senior pitchers,” Franceschelli said. “We pitched one sophomore and two freshmen. The closer, he’s never pitched. We just brought him in to throw (the last inning). We really didn’t want to show them our 1, 2 and 3 (pitchers). … I figured we’d get some work, but it was a disastrous game for us.”

At least they had some interesting music to listen to.

Byler doesn’t seem to mind the odd playlist, as long as his team stays focused, and they have as of late — in all areas. A young team that plays three freshmen at times has formed a chemistry, and if “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne adds to the camaraderie, then so be it.

“Everybody’s coming together,” Byler said. “We’ve got (guys in) the right spots. We’ve made some moves. We’ve got three freshmen on the team right now, and they’re contributing. It’s nice.”

Yeah, but a little rock ‘n roll wouldn’t hurt.