Pitching duel ends with dramatic home run in walk-off fashion
By Tom Williams
Mason Nawrocki didn’t miss a moment of a memorable first walk-off hit.
“I watched it the whole way,” Nawrocki said of his sixth-inning grand slam that lifted Boardman to Thursday’s 4-0 victory over Canfield in the Little League district title game. “That’s the first time I’ve gotten to experience [a walk-off].”
How did it feel?
“Fantastic — right when I hit it, I thought it was just a base hit,” the Boardman outfielder said.
Then he saw the ball sail over the fence.
“Amazing,” Nawrocki said.
Boardman advances to the Little League state tournament that begins on July 20 in New Albany. Manager Dom Triveri said Boardman’s first game will be on July 21.
Until the final swing, the showdown at the Fields of Dreams was an excellent pitchers duel.
Ryan Neifer tossed a two-hitter for Boardman, throwing 78 pitches.
Canfield starter Enzo Cocca blanked Boardman’s bats for five innings, stranding four Boardman runners including three in the fifth inning.
“If you love pitching, it was something you could be proud of,” Triveri said. “Ryan came out and he threw strikes and he owned the game. Their pitcher, Enzo Cocca, he did a heckuva job, too.
“We couldn’t get him — it took us six innings,” Triveri said. “Hats off to both of those kids — for 12-years-old, to have this game go into the sixth inning 0-0, it’s remarkable.”
In Boardman’s last at-bat, Grayson Eicher walked on four pitches, took second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on Anthony Triveri’s base hit.
Canfield manager Dan Anzevino relieved Cocca with Drew Snyder and then had Boardman cleanup hitter Tyler Kirlik intentionally walked to load the bases.
Snyder’s first three pitches were balls, but he recovered to strike out Kaden Mayhew.
He then struck out Neifer on a full-count pitch.
Two pitches later, Nawrocki ended the game with a solid stroke that rocketed the ball over the left-field fence.
“I knew it was gone,” Neifer said of watching from the dugout. “I was ecstatic.”
Anzevino said Snyder stood tall when the heat was on.
“Two strikeouts in a row with the bases jammed,” Anzevino said. “That one swing ... under pressure like that, that was an incredible swing.”
Dom Triveri said Nawrocki had been struggling.
“I think he was saving it for a big hit,” Triveri said. “It was amazing to watch him do that.”
Coaching third base, Triveri said he knew Boardman had won once the ball left Nawrocki’s bat.
“I knew it was gone because Mason has so much power,” Triveri said. “He’s a real strong kid.”
Neifer retired Canfield’s first eight batters. Cocca singled then was stranded at first base.
Asked if he was nervous because of the high stakes, Neifer said, “After the first inning, no. You just get into a groove and everything comes naturally.
“I knew our bats would come in.”
In the fifth inning, Canfield’s Zain Jadallah led off with a double. Two strikeouts and a ground out kept him from advancing.
Cocca limited Boardman to two hits in the first five innings.
Tyler Kirlik singled to lead off the second inning. He was retired on an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play (Julian Tranovich to Jadallah to Dom Mancini).
Boardman loaded the bases in the fifth inning, with Dom Polkovitch getting a base hit.
Canfield shortstop Jake Bednar ended the threat by fielding Luke Kollar’s ground ball and throwing it to Jadallah at second base. “That’s the best defensive game we’ve played all year,” Anzevino said. “It’s incredible because of all the pressure — those two pitchers pitched their hearts out.
“I’m proud of how they handled themselves,” Anzevino said of his players.
“They’ll get to play against these guys for the rest of their careers. I see a lot of ballplayers on both sides — it’s a good crew.”