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Plenty of curves

Scrappers learning, handling adversity in new league

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Scrappers third baseman Jarrod Belbin slides safely into third base Sunday against the West Virginia Black Bears at Eastwood Field. Mahoning Valley lost, 9-7.

NILES — Less than a month into the season, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers have been through it all.

The Scrappers raced to a 6-0 start. They hit a bump in the road, losing five of seven games. The current roster is void of 14 names from the opening day roster, while 17 new faces have been added to the mix.

There was a dramatic comeback win (10-9 over Frederick after trailing 8-1) and a few blowout wins (15-1 over Frederic, 21-6 over State College). One day after the 15-run win over State College, the Spikes scored nine first-inning runs en route to a 12-2 win over the Scrappers.

On Saturday — after dodging a tornado warning — the Scrappers and Black Bears played to a 7-7 deadlock. It’s the first tie in Scrappers history.

The Scrappers continue to walk batters at a high rate (6.7 walks per game), yet they continue to possess the league’s best record (14-8-1). Games at Eastwood Field this year have averaged 14 runs per contest and have routinely lasted beyond the three-and-a-half hour mark.

On Sunday, the Scrappers again dodged severe weather that occurred just north of the stadium, but they couldn’t dodge West Virginia. The Black Bears defeated the Scrappers 9-7.

West Virginia (12-7-4) used the long ball to pull to within one-half of a game of the Scrappers in the standings. Eli Hammill hit a solo home run to lead off the third inning. One inning later, Grant Hussey belted a three-run blast. Kaeber Rog rounded out the West Virginia scoring with a two-run shot in the eighth.

The Scrappers finally broke through with four runs in the bottom of the sixth. Jack Kelly doubled in a pair of the runs while Jarrod Belbin and Dan Harwood each picked up an RBI.

In the ninth, the Scrappers scored twice on a Bobby Sparling double. They eventually brought the tying run to the plate but Belbin flied out to center to end the game.

Scrappers center fielder Sam Crail says that his team’s up-and-down play is a by-product of “a league ideally set up for draft-eligible players.”

“This has been an awesome experience to this point,” said Crail, who recently completed his senior season at St. Leo (Florida) University. “The competition we’re facing on a daily basis I’d say is better than anything in the country, maybe with the exception of the SEC. There are a lot of special players in this league.”

“This league has a very unique set-up. There’s nothing else currently like it. It’s sort of like college all-star games on a nightly basis.”

After struggling early on, Crail has evolved into one of the Scrappers’ most consistent hitters. He is currently batting .317.

“It’s a grind for sure,” he said. “I think the biggest thing for all of us was finding a routine and sticking to it. In my case, I like getting to the ballpark at the same time every day. I like doing the same things every day once I’m here. Establishing that routine has helped me on the field.

“Right now, I’m just trying to relax and put the ball in play while using the big part of the field.”

The Scrappers will enjoy a day off today before beginning a three-game series Tuesday at State College.

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