DIV. I DISTRICT BASEBALL Graham's blast subdues Fitch
Zack Graham's homer in the 11th lifted Shaker Heights past Fitch 2-1.
By JOHN BASSETTI
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
STRUTHERS -- A few amusing comments about the slightly malfunctioning scoreboard at Cene Park's No. 2 field were more prophetic than funny when the game finally ended.
Although Shaker Heights High scored one run in the first inning against Austintown Fitch in a Division I district baseball semifinal Wednesday, the Raiders' digit somehow shifted to the 10th inning.
Comments from the bleachers focused on the run's misplacement and where the fans thought it belonged.
The problem was corrected shortly thereafter and Shaker Heights had its run restored to the right frame. But, after Fitch scored once in the sixth to tie the game, the Raiders wished they could have had that run back.
Game-winner: Their wish came true -- an inning off -- when Zack Graham's towering home run in the top of the 11th gave Shaker Heights a 2-1 victory.
Not only was Graham the hero at the plate, but he pitched all but one inning to vault the Raiders into today's championship game against Boardman.
Had Graham been able to pitch the 11th, he would have, coach Bud Longo said. But, high school rules limit a pitcher to 10. With only 109 pitches, though, the big right-hander could have finished.
That duty, however, was delegated to first baseman Steve Wilson, who swapped his position with Graham. Wilson retired three straight Falcons to pick up his third save of the season.
"He just came out and threw strikes," Longo said of one strikeout and two pop-ups.
Strong pitching: For Fitch, Shawn Barber had the same duty in relief of Ryan Banfield, who gave up just seven hits over eight innings.
"He just left it over the plate," Falcons coach Wally Ford said of a fastball by his reliever that Graham, the leadoff batter in the 11th, whacked over the left-field fence on an 0-2 count.
"Ryan had it," Ford said of Banfield's strength reserve. "He was pretty used up. Eight [innings] is a lot to ask."
The home run was a team-leading fifth for Graham, who also leads Shaker Heights in RBIs with 22.
The Raiders (14-7) will try for their fourth regional berth since 1994.
Graham (6-1), a senior, gave up all eight of Fitch's hits.
Leaders: Of Shaker Heights' 10 hits, Graham added a double as did Adam Artman, while Tristan Ribar had two singles.
Beau Banfield had three singles, including one in the bottom of the sixth which led to Fitch's only run. After Banfield's second hit of the game, he advanced to second on Barber's sacrifice bunt. Pinch-running for Banfield, Dan Noday advanced to third on Kevin Pontius's infield hit. Josh Starr followed with an RBI single that knotted the score.
Pontius finished with two singles for the Falcons (20-8).
"It was a whale of a game," Ford said. "Graham kept us off balance. He had a heck of a curve. They put the ball in play and made plays defensively."