Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
May 27, 2021
When Kenston Bombers’ senior right fielder Nikko Georgiou slapped a grounder to Solon Comets’ senior shortstop Ryan Funderburg, the Solon dugout seemingly held its breath.
Funderberg appeared to bobble the ball and it would take a perfect throw to nail the speedy Georgiou. The Comets’ shortstop’s throw was on the money and the dugout roared in celebration as the team raced onto the field. Kenston just stood in silence as the reality that their season had ended was slowly sinking in.
It was a touch-and-go moment for the Comets as they were clinging to a one-run lead in the ninth inning with Kenston threatening with runners at the corners. Senior right-handed pitcher Aaron Blashka came up with the go-ahead hit in the top of the ninth when he smoked a grounder up the middle off Bombers’ lefty Parker Munday. He walked the tightrope with shaky control in the bottom half but got the job done.
“I knew he was going to come at me with a fastball and I just slapped it up the middle,” explained the 5-foot-9 right-hander. “It’s what I try and do every at-bat and it just worked out.”
Entering the Division I Hudson sectional finals game against its neighborhood rival Solon head coach Damien Kopkas noted that his team understood the odds were stacked against them. The Bombers had a potent offense and a dominant pitching staff while the Comets had an uneven season. The key ingredient they missed all season was consistency as Solon ended its regular season on a three-game losing streak.
“When our regular season came to an end last week we said ‘It’s over. It has not been as successful as we would have liked but that’s over. We are going to flush everything and move forward,’” said the eight-year Solon coach. “I think they really embraced that idea.”
While the Comets struggled to find their rhythm, Kentson appeared to be in prime form to make a deep run in the postseason. The Bombers fell short of capturing the Western Reserve Conference title but still looked poised for a promising postseason. The Comets embraced their underdog role as they upset Kenston by a final score of 10-9 in nine innings on May 20 at the Kenston Varsity Diamond.
The Bombers turned to junior southpaw Jake Vasil to take the hill on Thursday evening. The left-hander been dominant for Kenston all season long and there was no reason to think he would not do the same against the Comets. Vasil’s key to success all season was having great command but he lacked that from the first pitch.
Solon senior center fielder Pat McQuaide laced an opposite-field double to left field to lead off the game and junior first baseman Zach Gottlieb advanced him to third base with a bunt single. Vasil came back and struck out sophomore left fielder E.J. Taylor but after he waved at strike three Gottlieb stole second base. The throw to second sailed over senior shortstop Michael Persichetti’s head and trickled into the outfield allowing McQuaide to score.
Things snowballed from there as senior designated hitter Nate Blashka and Funderburg took the ball the other way and picked up RBI-doubles to give Solon a three-run cushion. The Solon batters were making a habit of looking for those outside pitches.
“The whole year our assistant coach and Coach Kopkas have preached backside,” said junior third baseman Sam Patriarco smiling. “If you can hit the outside pitch that way you can hit any pitch on the field so our team takes that approach with every single at-bat.”
Despite falling into a three-run hole, coach Ford expressed there was no worry in the Bombers’ dugout. Kenston had been a great hitting team all season and the 12-year Bombers’ coach noted he had all the confidence in the world in his team’s resiliency.
“Those three runs in the first were not going to phase us too much. We don’t panic a whole lot,” assured coach Ford. “We know we can score and we just have to keep hacking away. We just keep coming at you.”
Comets’ freshman righty Harley Barmen toed the rubber and also struggled to command the ball. The Bombers kept chipping away and took a 4-3 lead when junior third baseman Ryan Miller rifled a two-run bomb to left field in the second frame. Kenston’s offense hit a rough patch towards the end of the season when Miller was out of action for two weeks after being struck by a line drive during a contest against WRC rivals the Brus Arcs. The Bombers felt his absence as their offense suffered. He was playing in just his second game back on Thursday evening.
Vasil continued to labor in the third and the Comets regained the lead when Barmen singled home two runs. Patriarco was in a slump towards the end of the season but picked a perfect time to break out when he drilled a two-run double into the gap in right-center to stake Solon to a 7-4 lead. The Bombers’ southpaw only hurled 2.2 innings and surrendered seven runs (six earned) on seven hits while walking two and fanning six Comets’ batters.
Kenston continued to chip away at the lead until the seventh frame. With two outs to go and the Comets holding an 8-7 edge senior righty Justin Adzema left a fastball over the heart of the plate and Gilbert blasted a mammoth game-tying home run to left-center field. Everyone knew the ball was gone the moment it left his bat and the Bombers’ dugout went crazy now that they had new life in the game. The Solon offense picked up Adzema and scored two runs in the ninth to advance to the district semis.
The Comets have everyone’s attention after their thrilling victory over Kenston. The furthest Solon has advanced in the postseason was during the 2016 season when it made it to the state final four. There’s still a long way to go but the Comets are streaking at the right time. While it was a stinging loss for the Bombers coach Ford expressed optimism for the 2022 campaign as the bulk of the team is returning including the entire pitching staff.
If the Comets win their district semifinals game against the Mentor Cardinals on May 25 then they will advance to the district finals on May 27 to face the winner of the game between the Hoover Vikings or Green Bulldogs.