Spartans’ Watkins makes the most of extra swing

Secondary hed for Ursuline and Boardman baseball

By Tom Williams


Boardman High senior Dan Watkins made the most of his second chance during Wednesday’s showdown against Ursuline.

With the bases loaded, two outs and the Spartans ahead by a run, Watkins did his best to check his swing on a 0-2 pitch from Irish ace Sam Donko.

After the umpires ruled he did not swing, Watkins tripled to deep right-center field on the next pitch, the key at-bat in the Spartans’ 7-5 victory. Dan Popio, Phil DiIanni and Zach Williams scored for a four-run advantage.

“I wasn’t very optimistic, I was planning on taking a seat,” Watkins said when the Irish appealed his swing. “But they gave me a second chance and I made it [work].”

The Spartans (10-3) needed those runs as the Irish (7-3) scored twice in the seventh inning and had the tying run at the plate when the game ended.

“It was nerve-wracking,” winning pitcher Nate Knaus said. “They are a great hitting team, so I was just focusing on keeping the ball low, outside, trying to get a ground ball.”

With one out in the seventh inning, Ursuline’s Paul Pegues and Anthony Rohan singled then scored on Donko’s two-out single. Knaus (1-2) escaped with the victory when Ryan Strollo hit a 2-2 pitch (the seventh of his at-bat) to center fielder DiIanni for the final out.

“It felt real good when Phil caught that,” Knaus said of his first victory.

Spartans coach Bob Beam said his senior pitcher “did real well. It’s nice when you have a non-league game and you can put a senior out there and feel confident that he’s going to throw a lot of strikes.”

The loss was the first for Donko (4-1) who gave up two runs in the Spartans’ first at-bat. After Derek Pasquale singled, Anthony Pacella reached on an error and Popio walked to load the bases. DiIanni singled to score Pasquale, then Cameron Rogers was hit by pitch to bring in Pacella.

“We want to test ourselves against the best people around,” Ursuline coach Sean Durkin said. “Boardman’s not just a Division I program — they are talented, well-coached. This is a test we want a couple weeks before the tournament.

“They have a very deep line-up, they had a couple of hit-and runs in big situations,” Durkin said. “We struggled with getting the lead-off runner out. Three in the first four innings got on and eventually scored. There were some routine plays we needed to make to keep it a lot closer early.”

In the second inning, Donko and Strollo led off with singles. Popio, the Spartans’ catcher, noticed Donko getting a decent lead at second base so he signaled second baseman Pasquale.

“I called a pitch to set up the throw to second and Derek made a good tag,” Popio said.

Beam, who has been a coach for 15 seasons, said Popio “is the best kid I’ve ever coached. He understands the game, knows when to do things. He is the ultimate senior that you want behind the plate.”

In the Spartans’ second at-bat, Donny Kratofil singled and scored on a passed ball for a 3-0 lead.

The Irish tied the game in the fourth inning, with Strollo driving in to two runs and then scoring on Tannor Berry’s sacrifice fly.

The Spartans responded with four runs in their next at-bat. DiIanni’s second hit scored Pasquale with the goal-ahead run and helped set the stage for Watkins.

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