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LaBrae stops Golden Flashes

CHAMPION — It’s the big mystery as the 2021 high school baseball season gets underway.

With spring sports eliminated a year ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, what each team has is truly any coach’s guess, at least early on.

“I think that pretty much everybody in the area is trying to figure it out, because with that year off there’s some guys that played and some guys that didn’t,” LaBrae coach James Bailey said. “I talked to (Champion) coach (Rick) Yauger. Right now at one moment you’re all right and you feel like you’re right on it, next minute, doesn’t look the same.”

That was definitely the case for the Champion Golden Flashes (1-4) in their first game at their new facility, Larry Durch Field, as they fell 8-0 to the LaBrae Vikings (1-2).

Four years removed from a Division III state championship and a district final loss a year ago to Ashtabula Edgewood, Champion struggled to get hits off of Jordan McCartney who finished with eight strikeouts and just three walks over 6 1/3 innings.

“He’s got a wonderful breaking ball,” Bailey said. “He does a nice job mixing it up. He pitched a really good game against Western Reserve. We ended up on the short end of that, 4-3, but he pitched the same way down there. He’s coming into his own. He’s really getting his confidence.”

Champion’s Zachary Bickel started the game off well for the Golden Flashes getting the first two batters before Connor Meyer connected on a 1-2 pitch.

From there, Bickel walked Lucas Lancaster and Meyer scored on a wild pitch. Dylan Simpson and Samuel Bailey walked, then Coby Airwyke’s first-pitch double made it 3-0 after one inning.

“We had some young guys who stepped up today — Coby Airwyke and Dylan Simpson,” Bailey said. “They were inserted into the lineup tonight. They had some timely hits. We made some good plays defensively.

“Overall, we did a nice job of putting some pressure on their defense. Running, putting the ball in play, that’s important in high school baseball.”

That it was, as the Vikings added two more runs in the second inning as Simpson worked the count full to walk and score Brogan Collins. On the ensuing at bat, a wild pitch made it 5-0.

Bickel battled, throwing 63 pitches in the first two innings, but some control problems and timely errors did in Champion.

“He was keeping us off balance, especially when he was switching from righty to lefty there,” Bailey said. “That was keeping us off balance a little bit. I think that one big hit by Connor kind of let him know that we were here to battle him all night.

“He looked strong there those first couple of batters. I think he put in a good effort too. His defense might have let him down a little bit, but he’s a good pitcher.”

Airwyke finished 2-for-3 with two doubles and three RBI.

Champion’s 1-2-3 batters mustered their only hits.

It was the first inning when Bickel and Aaron Ellsworth reached on singles only to be stranded at the corners when McCartney struck out Adam Fisher and got Nathan Holt to fly out to right.

Champion mustered just one hit for the rest of the game, Jack O’Shaughnessy’s single in the third inning. McCartney retired the next 10 batters he faced.

Yauger declined to comment after the game.

Bailey said he was surprised how the game progressed considering the success of the Champion baseball program.

“They’re usually a juggernaut,” he said. “These guys have all played against each other most of their lives.”

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