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Niles’ Cinderella run comes to an end

Correspondent photo/Robert Hayes. Niles senior Joe Valentine goes to turn a double play Wednesday night versus Chardon.

STRUTHERS — When there’s a platoon of ten seniors, it’s really difficult to single any individual out, even more so when they have been playing as a unit since the age of five.

Following a historic upset earlier in the week over state-aspiring Canfield, the Niles McKinley Red Dragons had to re-focus with their eyes set on some hardware heading into Wednesday evening at Bob Cene Park in the Div. II Struthers district final.

What faced them was a brick wall in Chardon, who torched the ball and bounced Niles from the postseason in the form of a 10-0 run rule victory in six innings.

Despite the loss, the injuries, among other things this spring, Red Dragons coach Mike Guarnieri still beamed with pride following the contest.

“We battled all year, this isn’t certainly the way you want to go out, but only one team gets to finish the year with a win, so I’m super proud of my guys, they battled all year long, we battled a lot of adversity,” Guarnieri said. “This is a special group for me, I’ve been coaching these kids since they were five years old, my son’s on the team. I kid a lot that we are the Niles McKinley Red Dragons or Carmen’s Auto, but I can’t be any more proud of the group that I have. It’s a really special group. I’m going to miss those kids.”

The Hilltoppers jumped on the scoreboard quickly, scoring two in the first before adding an additional run in the bottom of the second. Niles (17-9) had its opportunities, leaving runners on second and third in the first, then leaving the bases loaded in the top of the third inning.

They’d scatter four hits across six innings, as Chardon pitcher Nolan Kirsh was electric, fanning seven hitters in a complete game shutout. Matt Kozak, Kolton Christopher, Joe Valentine, and Michael Guarnieri accounted for the Red Dragons (17-9) offense.

A trio of Sam Perrone, Anthony Fisher and Christopher took the mound for Niles, but the Hilltoppers drilled the ball hard all evening, as well as taking six free bases via hit by pitches.

Niles came into the evening winners of 12 out of their last 13 contests, after having a midseason slump of six games, the Red Dragons found ways to keep teams off the scoreboard, with five of those aforementioned 12 wins coming by the way of a shutout.

It’s that type of effort down the stretch that makes it hard to say goodbye to 10 seniors.

“One of the really neat things is that those kids have literally been playing together since they were five, they were a special group back then and they’ve never disappointed me, and that’s a pretty big deal,” Guarnieri said about his group. “The offseason, there really is none, we’ll disperse some of the guys to summer ball, and on September 1st we open the weight room, and away we go again.”

sports@tribtoday.com

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