By Greg Gulas
With one team ranked sixth in the Division I poll and the other sitting alone atop the Federal League standings with an unbeaten mark, it was a classic case of the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object.
Troy Parks continued his mastery of Federal League opponents as he threw a complete game four-hitter for Boardman in a 6-3 victory over state-ranked Massillon Jackson on Tuesday at Cene Park.
The win was an about-face from the Spartans’ performance on Saturday in a 11-3 loss to rival Austintown Fitch.
“What a big difference 72 hours makes. Our guys came to play tonight; they knew what they had to do and they executed both at the plate and in the field,” Boardman coach Bob Beam said.
“Joe Lendak made some huge plays for us defensively at shortstop and give Mike Popio a lot of credit behind the plate.
“He [Popio] is probably the best player that I have coached in my 15 years as a manager. He manages a game so well and on top of it, hits the ball hard. He never wastes a cut,” Beam added.
Parks (6-0) has beaten five Federal League opponents, is 11-0 over the past two seasons and 14-1 in three seasons.
“Troy has three different pitches and he throws all three consistently for strikes. With his record, we expect to win when he is on the hill,” Beam said.
Derek Pasquale got the Spartans (14-5, 8-0) on the board in the first inning when he singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch, went to third on a single by Popio and then scored on a balk.
Parks threw no-hit ball until the fourth inning when a Jake Miller single ended his bid.
With two on, a double by Austin Szink scored Miller and Ian Patterson as Jackson (15-2, 5-2) took a 2-1 advantage.
The Spartans regained the lead in their half of the fourth when Phil DiIanni hit a run-scoring single, and Anthony Pacella and Nate Knaus later scored on a throwing error to make it 4-2.
A two-run double by Popio in the fifth inning increased Boardman’s lead to 6-2. Jackson got a run back in the sixth inning on a run-scoring triple by Szink.
Parks and Popio seem to be members of the mutual admiration society.
“Where do I start about Troy? Our entire team plays better when he is on the mound. More than any other pitcher, he seems to bring out the best in everyone,” Popio said.
“This game was without a doubt one of our biggest wins over the past 10 years. I’d say beating one of the top-ranked teams in the state would qualify as a signature win for us,” he added.
Parks said teams have be at the top of their game if they expect to win in the Federal League.
“Every Tuesday and Thursday you see a good team so you need to play your best. As for Dan [Popio], in my eyes he is the best catcher in not only our league, but the area as well.
“There are times I don’t even have to look in at his sign because I know what pitch he will be calling for me to throw.
“This win was huge because it now opens a two-game cushion over them in the loss column,” Parks said.
Parks struck out six as Boardman snapped the Polar Bears’ 10-game win streak.