Howland wins 9-U district championship
By Greg Gulas
Brayden Kovarik tossed a four-hitter and struck out six, adding a double offensively to help lead the Howland All-Stars to a 14-3, four-inning win over Austintown in the first Little League District 2 9-U baseball championship Friday night at Fields of Dreams.
Howland’s 10-hit attack was led by Nick Aho, who registered three safeties and scored twice, and Josh Jarvis, who added two hits (one a triple), drove in two runs and scored twice.
“It was all about having fun today,” Kovarik said. “My catcher, Kam Neff, was solid behind the plate and I just relied on my fastball and slider the entire game. It’s always fun to win the first of anything, so to win the first 9-U District 2 championship is very, very special.”
Howland breezed through the tourney by winning their opening two games, first against Poland and then against Boardman to remain in the winner’s bracket.
They finished the tournament with a 3-0 overall mark.
Austintown on the other hand won their opener against Canfield, suffered a loss to Boardman in the second-round to drop them to the loser’s bracket while wins over Poland and Boardman gave them a 3-1 mark heading to Friday’s title tilt.
Howland manager Eric Aho was thrilled with his team’s resilience.
“We won a hard-fought opener against Poland and that pretty much set the tone of the tournament for us,” Aho said. “We were then able to save some pitching, didn’t have to play as many games and were well-rested. That first game was definitely our springboard.
“Brayden pitched well today. He is our youngest player, having just turned nine years old and is a player that really works hard every time that he steps onto the field. Credit Austintown because they had to battle, coming out of the loser’s bracket. They had an excellent team.”
Austintown took the early 2-0 lead in its opening at-bat on a two-run double by Jo Jo Lumsden.
Jarvis led off Howland’s opening frame with a triple, later scoring on passed ball to cut the margin to 2-1 after one inning.
“We went undefeated in the tournament, but it wasn’t easy,” Jarvis said. “We hit the ball well all three games, got good pitching and played excellent defensively.”
Howland added six runs in the second inning for a 7-2 advantage with Aho and Isaiah Burgess registering both hits and scoring. Howland also took advantage of five Austintown fielding miscues and four wild pitches as they opened a five-run lead.
“When you have a pitcher like Brayden on the mound who is always around the plate, it’s a lot easier to play behind him,” Aho said. “He was definitely on today.”
Lumsden singled and later scored to cut the deficit to 7-3 in the third inning.
But run-scoring singles by both Eddie Morrison and Jarvis highlighted a five-run outburst in their half of the third inning as Howland stretched their lead to 12-3.
With two outs in the fourth inning, C.J. Petak’s two-run double then plated both Burgess and Santino Minniti with the final two runs.
Austintown manager Greg Faunda’s spirits were anything but dampened after a runner-up finish.
“We were the only team in Austintown Little League to make it to the district finals, so being runners-up isn’t bad at all,” Faunda said. “This group is a confident group because of the work that they put in during the off-season. We practice, work hard on every aspect of the game and go over the fundamentals.”