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Pitchers’ duel

Howland suffers initial defeat

Staff photo / Brad Emerine Braden Gebhardt of Howland delivers a pitch Wednesday against host Canfield. Gebhardt and the Tigers lost a pitchers’ duel, 2-0.

CANFIELD — Having a third strong pitcher in a high school baseball team’s starting rotation is a luxury.

Junior Ryan Petro is proving that for the soaring Canfield Cardinals.

In his second varsity start on Wednesday, Petro tossed a three-hitter in a 2-0 win over visiting Howland in a late-developed spring tournament.

It was the first loss of the season for the Tigers, who have played seven games.

“It was a great battle between two top-tier pitchers,” Howland coach Zach Byler said. “In games like this, it comes down to who makes the first mistake. Braden Gebhardt is our bulldog, our horse. Canfield is a very good club and we both came in here undefeated. We both competed hard and Braden answered the bell.”

Staff photo / Brad Emerine Howland catcher Nick Lewis takes a throw from first baseman Jared Mindek to force out Canfield runner Dom Magliocca at the plate in the fourth inning.

The Tigers’ southpaw struck out five batters and walked four. He surrendered five hits, all singles. One ground-ball single barely made it to the outfield and another never left the infield. The defense behind him made three errors, one of which was costly. It’s the type of game that Byler hopes his team can win when it fixes some little mistakes.

“I expect at least 15 wins from this group,” Byler said. “We’re going to go out, battle and win a lot of games. Our hitting game has shown up well early. And even though we got shut down today, we stayed in the game because of Braden.”

The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fourth. Canfield’s A.J. Havrilla led off with a walk. A one-out single by Dom Magliocca was followed by an error, which loaded the bases. Nate Shawn then placed a perfectly placed slow roller between shortstop and third base for an infield single and a 1-0 Cardinals’ lead.

Gabhardt enticed a grounder to first baseman Jared Mindek, who threw home for a forceout at the plate. A pop-up to Havrilla ended the inning.

“Howland came in undefeated and we know they’re good,” Canfield coach Gary Knittle said. “I tipped my cap to Braden and went over and talked to him. We saw him as a freshman and I see him in the summer, and I know him very well. He pitched a heck of a game.”

Staff photo / Brad Emerine Howland’s Ryan Hooper hits a hard grounder to shortstop for an out. The Tigers had just three hits off Canfield pitcher Ryan Petro.

Gebhardt also wriggled out of a jam in the fifth, as the Cardinals left the bases loaded again. But in the sixth, they tacked on an insurance run. With one out, Brock Lowry walked, Gianni Gaetano singled and Josh Juliano walked. Ben Slanker then got a sacrifice fly to center field.

Howland only got one runner to second base. In the top of the fourth inning, Austen Price singled with one out, but was promptly picked off by Petro. Mindek reached on an error and Anthony Massucci lined a single to center field.

But Petro picked Mindek off at second base on a well-timed twirling throw.

“We work on our pitchers and how to control the run game,” Knittle said. “We’ve seen Howland twice this week and they like to run. If you can take that away from them, it’s big, especially in a one- or two-run game.”

“Two picks in one inning. It’s a rarity,” Byler sad. “It was a very nice timing play at second base. We’ve been working on being aggressive on the bases, so I’m not going to get too bummed about it. Their pitcher not only threw a heck of a game, but he has quick movements and quick feet and he got us twice there. But we’re going to stay aggressive.”

Petro, who is 2-0 and has allowed four combined hits in his two starts, struck out seven and walked one.

“I knew Howland is a good team and that I’d have to bring my A-game, so I was ready for a close one,” Petro said. “I was able to throw strikes and my team played solid defense in the field. I felt good in the bullpen, but I never know if that means anything until I’ve pitched a inning. That’s usually when I get a feel for how things are going to go.”

But Byler knows his team was right there.

“I live for games like today,” he said. “We’ve been preaching discipline, discipline, discipline. We broke first. We had a couple of errors that exposed us to where they had runners on second and third base. Agaist a good team like this, that’s a problem. Tiny things against great teams end up making the difference.

“We’ve got to tighten down some of our skills and our baseball IQ factor needs shored up, too.”

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