By Tom Williams
Teams pursing 20 victories aren’t strangers to lucky bounces.
The Austintown Fitch High baseball team took full advantage of two big hops in earning its first sectional title in four seasons.
“Over the course of a season, you’ve got to get some lucky bounces,” Fitch coach Wally Ford said after Friday’s 10-1 victory over Ashtabula Lakeside in a Division I sectional final at Coppola Field. “We had a couple today.”
In the third inning with the Falcons already leading 4-0, Luke Peterson tomahawked the ball sharply at Lakeside shortstop Jared Zeman. The ball bounced high, narrowly missing Zeman’s face, into left-center field where Victor Tuttle bobbled it.
Two runs scored and Peterson raced to third base where he scored on Alex Sierra’s sacrifice fly.
“It was just a crazy hop and it got through the center fielder’s legs,” Ford said.
The next batter, Kevin Sierra, clubbed the ball down the first-base line where it bounced high over first baseman Nick Meola’s glove for a double.
“It feels so good,” said Sierra, who saw the ball take off for the outfield. “I told myself, ‘I’m going [for second] no matter what.’ What a good rally.”
It wasn’t over. Sierra scored on Shane Vitullo’s single and RBI doubles by Scott Pierce and Zack Miller gave the Falcons (20-2) a 10-0 lead.
“I just saw it bouncing,” said Peterson of his run to first base. “Sometimes you get lucky. That’s baseball — things happen like that.”
Tuttle’s struggle energized him.
“When I saw the second bobble, that’s when I decided to go to third,” the junior right fielder said.
The one drawback of a long-seven-run at-bat is it provides too much time off for the starting pitcher. Austin Cooper (6-1) took a no-hitter into the fourth inning, but his dominance was over.
Meola led off with a single. Two walks and a sacrifice fly gave the Dragons their run.
“I’ve just got to do a better job of staying loose in an inning like that,” Cooper said of the third inning that was so impressive that two Falcons batted twice. “Maybe take a jog to the back of the fence or toss a little bit.
“After a long inning, you get up there and start thinking too much and start walking guys, which was the case today.”
Ford said the big lead gave him options.
“After that long rest, it seemed he lost it a little bit,” Ford said of his ace. “We didn’t want to over do. We had a couple of seniors [Kevin Miller, Ron Sayers] and it was nice to get them an inning.”
In five innings, Cooper allowed one hit, struck out eight and walked three. Overall, the Dragons managed three hits.
Zack Miller, Zarek Bell and Peterson scored in the second inning to give the Falcons a 3-0 lead. Alex Sierra and Vitullo had RBIs. The other run came in on a wild pitch by Lakeside starter Alex DeCamillo.
Peterson called the tournament win satisfying for a hungry team.
“We’ve been working hard all season for this,” he said. “Howland has knocked us out three years in a row [so] we were determined to go to district.
“It feels amazing right now — with these guys, it’s awesome.”
His head coach agreed.
“It’s nice to get back to district,” Ford said. “We like our chances.”