DeFalco, Niles back in district final

By Brian Dzenis


Marco DeFalco didn’t repeat his postseason feats from last year, but he still has Niles in a good spot.

The Red Dragons are back in a Division II district final for the second straight season after defeating Poland, 4-3, in a district semifinal Tuesday at Cene Park.

DeFalco threw two straight no-hitters and was one hit short of a third during the tournament in 2017, earning himself The Vindicator’s Baseball Pitcher of the Year honors. In 2018, he wasn’t looking to top that run.

“I didn’t set my expectations too high. I wasn’t going out there to try and throw a no-hitter every time,” DeFalco said. “I took it game by game and just go with how the day is going. I didn’t try to live up to what happened last year.”

DeFalco pitched to every batter except the last one. He conceded two earned runs on six hits and eight walks, striking out nine. The walks came in bunches for some troublesome spots. Back-to-back walks and an error loaded the bases in the first inning and he issued a third free pass to score M.J. Farber. He issued three walks in the seventh inning as well.

“I know they have a lot of good hitters in their lineup, especially in the top of the order. I didn’t want to give them too much to hit,” DeFalco said. “I wasn’t trying to pitch around them, but I didn’t want to put them in play. I tried not to go deep in the count, hit the strike zone and let my defense make plays.”

Farber’s sacrifice fly scored Braeden O’Shaughnessy to bring the Bulldogs (9-10) within a run of tying the game in the seventh. DeFalco issued his final walk to load the bases with two outs before he was pulled out of the game for Brandon Hayes. Hayes worked Poland’s Alex Barth to a full count before coaxing a groundout to end the game.

“Marco’s a bulldog, man. Whether he has his plus stuff or not, he’s going to go out there and battle for you,” Niles coach T.C. Guarnieri said of DeFalco’s outing. “He always gives you a chance to win.”

Poland stranded 10 runners during the loss. Zachary Yaskulka and Reed McCreery each had two hits, with McCeery hitting a double.

“We didn’t get timely hits. They did,” Poland coach Rich Murray said.

Nick Guarnieri had three hits, including a double, for Niles (14-11), which finished with nine hits. He knocked home Zach Leonard in the first inning and then scored off Dave Mays’ single in the third. Mays later scored on Dylan Weida’s sacrifice fly. Weida singled home Mays in the fifth for the go-ahead run.

“We knew we had to jump [Poland starter Matt Sperati] early, give Marco some runs to work with and just stay consistent throughout the game,” said Nick Guarnieri, DeFalco’s catcher. “We wanted to make him as comfortable as possible.”

Sperati went the distance in defeat, conceding three earned runs on nine hits and two walks while striking out five.

Niles will see a familiar face in today’s district final, Canfield. The Cardinals bested the Red Dragons, 9-2, in last year’s final.

“We’ve got a lot of history with Canfield. We respect that program, it’s one of the best in the area, but we’ll come out and give them our best effort,” T.C. Guarnieri said.

The Red Dragons are going for their first district title since 1962.

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