Howland advances to sectional final with 6-4 win over Niles

Staff photo / Preston Byers Howland's Sully O'Donnell throws a pitch during the Tigers' 6-4 sectional semifinal win over Niles on Monday.

HOWLAND — Howland survived a first-round playoff scare against Niles on Monday, as the Tigers overcame an early deficit and held off a late surge to win 6-4 and advance to the Division II, Northeast 1 baseball sectional final.

After a two-run second inning by the Red Dragons, Howland responded with a five-run third inning that flipped the game on its head. Despite another pair of Niles runs in the sixth inning to pull back within two, the Tigers managed to cling on to their lead as relief pitcher Steven Bubon closed the game.

Bubon took the mound in the fourth inning to relieve Brendan Ray, who relieved starter Sully O’Donnell in the third inning. Howland head coach Britt Taylor said his pitching strategy was created with sectional final opponent Canfield in mind.

“We’re trying to play our cards right as far as pitching, so we were juggling pitchers a lot, obviously, because we knew the next step was going to be Canfield,” Taylor said. “We want to come out firing against them, so we were kind of juggling that a little bit at the same time.”

Taylor explained that he wanted to hold off on using Ray, the team’s ace, if at all possible on Monday to preserve his energy for Wednesday’s game against Canfield. Once the Tigers found themselves down 2-0 early, however, Taylor felt he needed to make a change on the mound.

“We wanted to go with Sully today, but they obviously got to him right off the bat. They were reading him really well. We wanted to save Brendan for Canfield, so we brought him in and said, ‘Hey, we gotta go with you now. You’re our number one guy.’ And then once we got the lead, we decided, ‘Okay, we’re gonna back off a little bit and see if we can’t can’t continue to get some more runs and say Brendan for for the next game against Canfield.'”

Ray faced just a handful of batters on Monday, as he held the Red Dragons scoreless in the top of the third inning before the Tigers mauled Niles pitcher Landon Turner. Howland scored five runs in the bottom of the third inning to erase the Dragons’ lead and establish an advantage of their own.

In the top of the fourth, Bubon relieved Ray, who struck out one and allowed one hit and two walks in fewer than two innings pitched. The decision to go with Bubon turned out to be a mostly positive one, as he struck out the side in the fifth inning to keep the score at 6-2 — Dominic Santee hit an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth to extend Howland’s lead.

Bubon ran into trouble in the sixth inning, however, as Niles’ Turner and Tyler Williams doubled and singled, respectively, to lead off the inning before Turner stole home and Brady Court singled to drive in Williams to make it a 6-4 ballgame.

Bubon recovered in the seventh, ensuring Niles could get no closer than its two-run deficit. Bubon recorded his sixth, seventh and eighth strikeouts, as well as a HBP, in the final inning to close out the game 6-4.

“Steven Bubon came in and just pitched phenomenally,” Taylor said. “Those experiences for those young kids are just — Sully was the first pitcher, he’s just a sophomore. Steven’s just a sophomore. For him to come out and close it, that was absolutely huge.”

Niles head coach Joe Toth said unlike Howland, he did not approach Monday’s game with a potential meeting with Canfield in mind. Ray and Turner were credited with the win and loss respectively. Brixton Gilmour finished the game on the mound for Niles, surrendering three hits and one run in three innings pitched in relief.

“I know that the first kid they had out there wasn’t their ace. But he threw well, we just got to him a little bit and so they decided to move on and try to shut us down, which [they] somewhat did,” Toth said. “Our philosophy, how long I’ve been here and including today, was pretty much, we got to go get this game. All hands were on deck and then if we get through this game, we’ll worry about Wednesday.”

The loss ends the 22nd-seeded Red Dragons’ season at 5-15.

“We had some ups and downs, but I thought — and me including the coaching staff — they improved, which that’s what we’re looking for. We had a lot of young guys, so we’re gonna hopefully improve and move on.”

The Tigers (No. 14 seed) will visit fourth-seeded Canfield on Wednesday at 5 p.m. with a district tournament appearance at stake. The Cardinals won both of the regular-season meetings against Howland this season, with Canfield edging out the Tigers 7-4 on April 15 before a 2-0 win the next day.

“They’re always a good team, they’re always well-coached. They’ve always got good pitching, they play good defense. We’ve got to come out and we’ve got to play good baseball for all seven innings. The last two games were close… so I expect this one to be a pretty good game. We’re going to come out with Brendan and give it the best we can.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Preston Byers by email at pbyers@tribtoday.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @PresByers.


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