Roaring back to win
Howland rallies from early deficit to beat JFK
That’s what John F. Kennedy did to host Howland on Wednesday. However, the Tigers regained the momentum and starting pitcher Braden Gebhardt locked down the Eagles after a three-run first inning to produce a 12-4 non-league victory.
Six of the first 11 batters for Kennedy reached safely — as the Eagles had five hits and a walk. In his final 5 1/3 innings, Gebhardt allowed just one hit, one unearned run and one walk while striking out nine.
“Braden throws 50-to-60 pitches in his pregame warm-ups and it still takes him a little bit to settle into a game,” Howland coach Zack Byler said. “He’s working on that — maturity-wise. But once he gets the feel on the mound, he’s hard to hit.”
Kennedy (9-7) got a leadoff walk from Alex DeSalvo, a one-out single from starting pitcher Gavin Shrum and a two-run double to left-center field from Cam Hollobaugh. Caleb Hadley followed with a sharp RBI single to left and it was 3-0. Jaden Rishel then singled, but Gebhardt, a southpaw, got the next two batters out as the Eagles stranded runners on second and third bases.
“Offensively, we’ve struggled,” Kennedy coach Jim Ciambotti said. “I’ve called it our three runs and a cloud of dust offense. We’ve been stuck on three or four runs per game here for a while. Obviously, we came out and started strong and it looked like we were going to do a whole lot more damage than we did.
“But you’ve got to give the big left-hander credit. He settled in, settled himself down and got the job done. They always say you want to get to the good ones early before they settle in. We did that, but it obviously wasn’t enough, and then we didn’t give our pitcher much defensive help to keep us in it.”
Howland (13-6) scored twice in the bottom of the first, as Anthony Massucci and Jared Mindek had consecutive two-out singles. Massucci went first-to-third on Mindek’s single, and third baseman Michael Condoleon’s throw back to second trying to get Mindek sailed into right-center field. Massucci scored, and Mindek scored on a wild pitch a few pitches later.
“Getting two runs back was a big thing for Braden because traditionally, we’re not getting him a lot of run support,” Byler said. “So I think that probably amped him up to do what he does even more so.”
“In the first inning, I was hitting too much of the plate,” said Gebhardt, who finished with 11 strikeouts and two walks while allowing two earned runs. “I went in the dugout, took some deep breaths and refocused. I just got more into a groove from that point on. The offense was great. If we get production like that from here on out, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
Howland tied the game in the third when Mindek grounded out to second base to score Ryan Hooper, who began the inning with a single.
The tight 3-all game turned into a blowout in the fourth and fifth innings, as the hosts scored four in the fourth and five in the fifth.
The Tigers had seven of their eight stolen bases in those innings, hit three sacrifice flies, added a sacrifice and were aided by three wild pitches, two walks and two Kennedy errors.
Howland had singles in the fourth from Marco Massucci, Gebhardt, Robert Gumino, Joshua McCleery and Anthony Massucci. Gumino’s bunt single gave the Tigers the lead for good. McCleery’s two-run single highlighted the fifth inning and Mindek hit a sacrifice fly in each inning.
“In the fourth inning, we had the right guys up, our good bunters up and fast guys on base, so we went to some small ball,” Byler said. “We used a pinch-runner there. We got some stolen bases. They also had some defensive lapses by their young guys that we were able to take advantage of.”
It’s the type of winning baseball that Byler has been harping on his team about.
“I’ve been pounding our guys and building expectations on situational hitting lately,” he said. “We spent 45 minutes in practice yesterday just working on situational hitting. I want to drive home to our guys that we don’t give a crap about their (batting) average; I want them to play team ball and score runs. They did that today with the bunts, stolen bases, aggressive base-running and that situational hitting with the sacrifice flies. Mindek did a good job the inning before hitting to the right side to score the tying run.
“Hopefully, we’re starting to turn the leaf and we’ll see that more often — that win contagion we’re seeking.”
Anthony Massucci had four of Howland’s 11 hits — all singles. McCleery and Marco Massucci both had two hits. Mindek had three RBIs, with Gumino, McCleery and Anthony Massucci all driving home two runs.
Gebhardt went 6 2/3 innings and left after issuing his second walk and reaching 122 pitches.
“I hated that. That made me mad,” Gebhardt said about not finishing. “But my guy (McCleery) came in and threw one pitch and we were done.”
“He’s a major competitor, and he was upset,” Byler said. “We all know he could’ve gotten the complete-game win. We could’ve let him go one more batter even though he surpassed his pitch count, but why? It’s just not smart. I don’t want to over-extend any pitcher we have in that situation.”
Shrum struck out four and walked three, allowing just three earned runs before Condoleon worked the final 1 2/3 for Kennedy.
“We didn’t play good defense today and it came back to bite us,” Ciambotti said. “We do have a lot of young kids, but we don’t make excuses around here. We need to make some plays. We’ll teach it, learn from it and get better. Obviously, today was just one of those days.
“We’ve only got 11 players on the roster, so it is what it is. Half of them are freshmen and we try to put them in good position to succeed and see what happens.”