July 25, 2016

Mostly clear

Baseball: Grizzlies, Knights remain on top

WADSWORTH — Even though Tallmadge’s highly regarded baseball team isn’t what it used to be, taking down the 14 players wearing blue and gold meant the world to Wadsworth.

Left fielder Nate Aberle set the tone, shortstop Riley Campbell brought the wow-factor and pitcher Jeff Stover was incredibly workmanlike as the can’t-keep-them-down Grizzlies won 3-0 in Suburban League action Tuesday.

Riley Campbell

Jeff Stover

Last year’s nine-win season feels like a lifetime ago for Wadsworth (16-1, 7-1), which played sparkling defense against the Blue Devils (7-8, 2-6) to keep pace with league-leading Nordonia (13-5, 7-1).

“It’s a great feeling,” Stover said. “For the past three years I’ve been on this team, we’ve been just crushed by them. I come out with a smile knowing we beat them.”

Due to construction concerns, the Grizzlies have not been able to play at the new field behind the high school. Instead of pouting, they’ve fully embraced the all-dirt infield at nearly 100-year-old A.C. Field and used it to their advantage.

The difference was stunning Tuesday, as Tallmadge committed four errors that led to two unearned runs. The Grizzlies had no such problems, and their deep-playing infield gobbled up every awkward hop.

Aberle made would-be baserunners weary on the third pitch of the game when he nailed Chris Gray trying to stretch a single into a double. Campbell then started a 6-4-3 double play in the second inning before diving to snare a wicked hop deep in the hole and throwing out Matt Noel from his knees in the fourth.

Rangy second baseman Lewis Weber also made a nice grab of a liner in the sixth, shortly after Stover picked off Gray with runners on first and third.

“We’ve been grinding since the offseason,” Campbell said. “Our goal was Suburban League title, and we came in saying, ‘Defense, defense, defense, defense’ because that was the No. 1 thing we needed to work on.”

With his defense making every play in sight, Stover (2-1, 1.33 ERA) pounded the strike zone with the precision of a brain surgeon.

The senior right-hander finished with a five-hitter and erased runners on Aberle’s throw, the double play and the pickoff. He threw 56 of his 84 pitches for strikes and struck out eight using two-seam fastballs inside, circle changeups low and curveballs on the outside corner.

If a tone needed to be set for sophomore Nick Bebout today at Tallmadge, Stover took care of it.

“Jeff is a saint right now for our team,” Campbell said. “He is doing an amazing job this year. We’re going to ride him and Nick Bebout all the way.”

Wadsworth wasted no time jumping to a 2-0 lead. Campbell led off with a liner up the middle and came around on a Jack Pecnik triple. Aden Campbell scored later in the inning on a two-out error.

Tallmadge starter Scott Noel (2-3, 1.77) settled in at that point before his defense failed him again in the fourth. Consecutive one-out errors in the infield pushed Weber to third, and he scored on a Riley Campbell sacrifice fly.

Though the Grizzlies scored less than five runs for just the fourth time this season, their all-around solid play was more than enough to take down the SL’s premier program over the past 10-plus years.

“We’ve all been playing together since we were really young, so it’s team chemistry and the experience of varsity last year,” Stover said. “This year, we’re getting the chance to put our minds together and be a great team.”

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.

Albert Grindle About Albert Grindle

Albert Grindle is a sportswriter for the Gazette. He can be reached at 330-721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.