Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
May 10, 2018
Kenston baseball sure had its chances early on, but it was Solon that capitalized with four runs in the first inning of an eventual 10-3 playoff victory in Division I Hudson District quarterfinals action on Tuesday evening at the Comets’ home community park.
Coming off a 16-0 victory against district No. 10-seed Warren G. Harding the previous day, the No. 7-seed Bombers (13-7) drew three walks in the first inning to load the bases but left all three runners stranded – senior Michael Rockefeller, senior Matthew Pecoraro and junior Craig Roch.
Kenston then loaded the bases again in the top of the second, with sophomore Jon Tomcufcik reaching base on an error, senior nine-hole batter Stephen Szczesniak hitting a single through the six-five gap and senior Michael Koniar drawing a walk. But the Bombers again left three on base and came up empty.
Both times, Solon senior ace Casey Maniglia, a University of North Carolina signee, avoided trouble with strikeouts to end the innings – the latter K coming after he fell behind, 3-0, in the count.
“It’s a really great feeling, especially when you make mistakes and put runners on by throwing balls,” Maniglia said about holding Kenston scoreless through two. “But it was a good feeling to get out of those innings.
“I just needed to throw strikes today, but I wasn’t really able to throw them, and my defense stepped up and made a lot of plays for me and helped me out.”
Solon entered the game with an 11-5 record, the No. 2 seed in the district and a No. 19 ranking among Division I programs statewide, according to the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association.
Offensively, Maniglia did his job out of the five-hole in the bottom of the first inning to help the Comets get out to a 4-0 lead and put the pressure on Kenston.
Solon junior shortstop Ryan Guggenheim led things off by reaching base on a line drive that made its way out of the infield on an error, before junior third baseman Jimmy Casamento hit a double down the right-field line to put Comet runners in scoring position.
Solon senior center fielder and three-hole batter Ryan McCurry then plated Guggenheim on a groundout to third base, senior right fielder and cleanup batter Ryan Schwartz drew a walk, and Maniglia smashed a two-RBI triple over the Kenston center fielder’s head for the 3-0 score.
“I just took advantage of the count, a hitter’s count,” Maniglia said about swinging away at 3-1. “It was just low and outside, and I just tried putting the barrel on it, and it worked out.”
Solon senior left fielder Tommy Chiudioni was able to plate Maniglia on a four-three groundout before the Bombers could get out of the inning.
Kenston only brought three batters to the box in the third inning, thanks to Solon junior catcher Camden Loeschen gunning out a would-be stealer at second base. The Bombers got a run back in the top of the fourth, when senior designated hitter Koniar hit a bases-loaded RBI single to right, but Solon’s Schwartz was able throw out a potential second run at home plate to keep the score at 4-1.
“There’s no doubt that our district is one of the toughest in Northeast Ohio and maybe throughout the state,” Solon ninth-year head coach Damien Kopkas said. “When you’ve got a seven seed that’s 13-6, you’re never going to have an easy game.
“So, we knew we were going to have to come out and play real solid defense, try to make their defense move their feet, work, hit the ball hard, and I think we did a really nice job of that from top to bottom today. Everybody that got on the field had a role to play and played their role well, and I think it was a full team effort.”
Solon tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the fourth, when Loeschen reached base on a dropped third-strike pitch out of the eight-hole, senior second baseman JT Caver moved him to second base on a sacrifice bunt, Loeschen took third on a wild pitch, and then Guggenheim knocked him home on an RBI single through the three-four gap.
Guggenheim then got a jump on a payoff pitch to Casamento to avoid a double play, and McCurry got Guggenheim home on a hard-hit bouncer that got past Kenston’s third baseman and into left field – Kopkas waved Guggenheim home from second base on the play for the 6-1 upper hand.
McCurry also had a two-RBI single to right in the bottom of the sixth, but another Kenston error allowed three runs to score, and McCurry made it all the way to third. While he only had one hit, McCurry got aboard three times with five of Solon’s 10 runs coming home during his plate appearances.
“Whenever we see men in scoring position, we always tell ourselves to do whatever we can to get that runner in,” McCurry said. “So, today, I had not a very strongly hit ground ball to third that scored a runner, and then I also got a nice hit over to right. So, it’s always about scoring those runs at all costs. It’s a sacrifice, but we’ll take the runs.”
After Maniglia tossed 89 pitches through four innings, giving up two hits, six walks and one unearned run, the Comets brought Caver in for relief, and he pounded the strike zone to keep the Bombers scoreless with 14 pitches in the fifth and eight pitches in the sixth.
Caver is second in the Comets’ starting rotation, but Solon has relied on him in a variety of facets all season, because he’s confident, trusts his stuff, throws strikes and allows his defense to take care of the rest, Kopkas said.
Although the Comets were feeling confident with a 6-1 lead, they added four more runs in the bottom of the sixth to put the game out of reach. Senior Grant Schwartz hit a single up the gut, Guggenheim drew a walk, Casamento placed a bunt single down the third baseline, McCurry plated three runs on that previously mentioned single to right, and Ryan Schwartz hit an RBI single down the left-field line.
“The nature of a head coach is always to worry no matter how big the lead,” Kopkas said about putting in the dagger. “But, those guys are just grinders. They never quit in a game. They understand that you can’t be satisfied. We’ve seen five-, 10-run leads evaporate in an inning or two. So, we know that no lead is ever really safe, and the extra four runs in the sixth gave us a little bit of a cushion there in the end.”
Kenston was able to notch two more runs in the top of the seventh, with back-to-back singles from Koniar and Pecoraro, a sacrifice fly by senior cleanup Matthew Cassaro and another sacrifice fly by Roch, before the Comets could put the game to bed.
Improving to 12-5, the Comets advance to play No. 3-seed Stow-Munroe Falls in district semifinals action at 5 p.m. Monday at Hudson High School. The winner of that game will play either No. 1 Walsh Jesuit or No. 5 Hudson for a district title at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the same venue.
“This postseason is very important to us,” McCurry said. “I mean, last year was kind of a disappointment. We didn’t meet expectations. We went to states the year before that, and then we fell short in the district finals (4-3 against Aurora). And this year we expect to have a strong showing and hopefully get back there.”
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