STRONGSVILLE — An eagle-eyed observer might be able to spot the mark where Cam Hollobaugh’s massive two-run home run bounded off the tan brick of Strongsville High School after first clearing the towering right-field fence.
In many regards, Hollobaugh’s long blast during the bottom of the first inning Saturday afternoon is symbolic of the school year that John F. Kennedy High School has embarked on, bringing home hardware on both the gridiron and the hardwood.
Now, the Eagles can add a new piece to their expanding trophy case, with a 7-2 victory over Tiffin Calvert providing JFK with the school’s first regional title for baseball. Kennedy also booked a date to the Division IV state final four against Fort Loramie on Friday at 1 p.m. at Canal Park in Akron.
“It’s really unbelievable, because we’ve got a very young team, we’ve got six freshmen, a sophomore, and only one senior (Hollobaugh),” first-year coach James Ciambotti said. “Everybody stepped up, everybody was receptive to coaching, and here we are.”
Calvert found the scoreboard early with a sacrifice fly in the top half of the first, but Hollobaugh had a response in store with junior Gavin Shrum on second base. Battling against Calvert’s Max Paul, Hollobaugh continued to foul off pitches toward his team’s third-base dugout during an at-bat that lasted more than 10 pitches.
That was until Hollobaugh got hold of a pitch that was away and outside.
“In that at-bat, I’m thinking to myself, I’m not losing 1-0, if that ends up how it happens and I knew I had to do something to change that,” Hollobaugh said. “I think it was like a 12- or a 13-pitch at-bat, and then I was just trying to fight, and I knew there was a runner in scoring position, and we were down one, so I knew I had to put the ball in play at least.
“It felt great. There’s no better feeling than being able to run around the bases, being able to jog around them.”
The Eagles tallied four in the second inning with the help of some defensive miscues by the Senecas, along with a mix of passed balls and a bases-loaded walk. JFK felt the momentum coming its way with each Calvert mistake, making sure to capitalize on those opportunities.
“We really harp on running out the ball and just hustling all the time,” said Shrum, who went 1-for-3 at the dish with an RBI and a run scored. “That just causes infielders and outfielders to just rush the throws and make errors.”
After starting pitcher Jaden Rishel was pulled after 2 1/3 innings, Shrum was brought in for relief, closing out the door with 4 2/3 hitless frames, only allowing a single walk, with four punchouts.
“Fastball and slider were the only pitches that I threw today, I felt really good. Tried to keep it simple-stupid, and we got the job done,” Shrum said
Ciambotti said he thought that Schrum’s performance marked a shift in the Eagles’ favor during the top half of the third.
“The turning point, besides the home run, is in the third inning when we brought in Gavin,” he said.
“They were starting to get to Jaden a little bit, and we thought about a fresh arm going through the order the second time, and it worked out to our favor.”
Freshman Caleb Hadley tallied the Eagles’ (20-8) only multi-hit performance, going 2-for-3 at the plate. Along with Hollobaugh’s two RBI, Aidan Rossi, Alex DeSalvo, and Schrum each recorded a run batted in.
“I’ve worked four years for it, as a senior it means a lot,” Hollobaugh said about the regional title. “Especially because my games and my career here at JFK, they’re going away. The most games I can play is two more, so it means a lot to be able to keep playing as long as I can my senior year.”
As a member of both the football and basketball programs, Hollobaugh had contributed his fair share toward the Eagles’ new hardware, but Ciambotti and his team are looking for one more.
“I told him, he’s held up the runner-up trophy, so hopefully this time we can get the real thing for him,” Ciambotti saidwith a laugh.