By Ryan Jones
Steve Gruver had 12 strikeouts in the complete-game three-hitter for Austintown.
BOARDMAN — With the count 0-2 and Boardman down to its last out, Austintown Fitch pitcher Steve Gruver exhaled, and with his smooth over-the-top arm motion, spotted a fastball on the outside corner.
Boardman’s pinch hitter swung and missed, nullifying the Spartans’ last chance to break up Gruver’s shutout. The Falcons won the sectional final, 5-0, and will play the Lakewood St. Edward/Garfield Heights winner in Division I district semifinal on Tuesday at Cene Park.
Gruver said no matter the circumstances it’s always a big game when Boardman is the opponent.
“Whether it’s for a chance to make it to districts or not, beating Boardman is always sweet,” Gruver said. “The fact that we played each other with districts on the line only adds excitement to the game.”
Gruver, a University of Tennessee recruit, struck out the side in the first inning and recorded all three outs in the second by way of punch-out. He totaled 12 strikeouts and walked four in the complete game three-hitter.
One disadvantage of the 6-foot-4 inch senior’s early success; he threw 48 pitches in the first three frames.
Gruver (4-1), who finished the game with 98 total pitches, said his limit is around 100 for most games.
“I wasn’t paying attention to how many pitches I threw in the early innings,” Gruver said. “I just keep going until they tell me it’s time to come out.
“I hit my spots and was able to throw my curve ball for strikes,” Gruver said. “I didn’t throw many curves, but I was able to throw them for strikes when I did.”
Fitch (12-8) coach Wally Ford said Gruver is right up there with the best pitchers in the state.
“We figured they [Boardman] would try to run up Steve’s pitch count, and they were able to do that for a while,” Ford said. “Luckily, we had some quick innings as the game wore on because they put the ball in play. Steve was his typical self — always in control and on top of things out there.”
Up 1-0, the Falcons strung together five hits that fueled a three-run third inning.
Catcher Jason Bagoly led off with a double off the right center field wall and advanced to third on Mike Olenych’s single. Jimmy Kinnick doubled home Bagoly for a 2-0 lead. First basemen J.D. Kubacki lined a two-run single to right that scored Olenych and Kinnick to make the score 4-0.
Ford said he challenged his offense to come up with big hits.
“We’ve been struggling to get hits at clutch times,” Ford said. “We talked about that before the game and some of our seniors really stepped up tonight. In some games we’ve struggled to hit the ball when Steve [Gruver] pitches, but we put the bat on the ball when we had to.”
Boardman coach Jack Hay said he thought his team had a pretty good approach against Gruver.
“Mostly, we swung at good pitches and we put the ball in play,” Hay said. “Our pitcher [Pat O’Brien] had one tough inning in the third, but other than that he pitched a good game.
“When you’re going against someone like him [Gruver] and you get behind by four runs, you’re really up against it for the rest of the game,” Hay said.
Kubacki went 3-for-3 with two RBIs to lead the Falcons. Kinnick went 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored. Bagoly added two runs and a hit wile Olenych had a run and a hit for the winners.
Next week, Boardman and Fitch will play two regular-season games as part of the Federal League schedule.