BRUNSWICK — With its Northeast Ohio Conference River Division title hopes hanging in the balance and bitter rival Strongsville in the opposing dugout, the Brunswick baseball team never lost sight of the true inspiration: Somewhere in heaven, Cora Flemming was smiling.
There are moments in life that put sports in perspective. Tuesday was one of them, and Gerry Salisbury refused to let the beautiful 70-degree afternoon be any less heartwarming.
Wearing special jerseys to honor Flemming, the spunky and popular cheerleader who lost her courageous year-long battle with bone cancer Sunday, the Blue Devils rode the arm of the gritty Salisbury to win an intense 2-0 classic.
“It absolutely means the world to us,” Salisbury said. “These guys are like family to me, and this is an amazing win for us.
“Some things are bigger than baseball. That’s the way we thought was the best way to honor her: To come out here and shove it right at them.”
Brunswick (15-8, 6-3) still needs help to repeat as division champion, but that was secondary to remembering another fallen classmate less than a year after Jeff Chaya, Kevin Fox, Lexi Poerner and Blake Bartchak were tragically killed in a car crash on Boston Road.
The special occasion Tuesday featured neon green jerseys with purple lettering donated by the high school. They had “#corastrong” on the front, and the players’ number with the last name “Flemming” on the back.
“It’s extremely special,” All-Gazette second baseman Kyle Burson said. “It was a great game to be a part of. … We were playing for something bigger.”
In an action-packed game full of big plays, Salisbury (4-2, 2.33 ERA) and his clutch defense came through when it mattered most.
The southpaw, who is being courted by multiple mid-major Division I colleges due to a mid-80s fastball and devastating low-60s curveball, allowed just a bunt single to Brendan Lang and a seeing-eye roller up the middle to Ryan Frank. Salisbury struck out eight, including cleanup hitter Alex Sarrouh with two runners in scoring position to end the sixth inning and Brad Hajdin on an 86-mph inside heater to end the game.
With so much at stake, there was no question it was the biggest performance of the sideburn-rocking senior’s career.
“I owed them a couple,” he said matter-of-factly. “They beat me two or three times, and I wasn’t going to let this one get away.”
Salisbury had help, as the infield of third baseman Corey Welsh, shortstop Kyle Michalik, second baseman Burson and first baseman Kyle Wheeler had hot gloves when it mattered most.
With the game scoreless in the third, Hajdin reached on an error and Lang made things hairy by pushing a sacrifice bunt into no-man’s land, allowing him to beat Salisbury’s hurried throw. No. 9 hitter Tom Krokey then sacrificed the runners over, and Frank was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Dominic Lombardo hit Salisbury’s first offering directly to Burson, who started an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
“That’s a sweet middle infield,” Salisbury said.
It was even sweeter in the fourth.
Sarrouh’s single came with one out, bringing Brad Weimken, whose summer coach is Brunswick assistant Tom Lindhe, to the plate. Weimken put the ball in play on a hit-and-run, but quickly grounded out to Burson. Wheeler then fired a bullet across the infield to Welsh and got Sarrouh diving into third, which drew a roar from the 100-plus fans in attendance.
“When we play good ‘D,’ we win,” Burson said. “It’s hard to beat us because we have such a good pitching staff.”
Brunswick took the lead for good in the bottom of the inning, when Michalik made Mustangs starter Austin Previt (3-1) pay by beating out an infield single that scored Burson.
Momentum was still teetering in the sixth, but the Blue Devils got a big insurance run when heady sophomore Gary Clift Jr. smacked an RBI single to left that scored Welsh, who had doubled to right-center. Clift’s base knock came one pitch after Brunswick fans vehemently complained about a questionable groundout call off the bat of Wheeler.
Salisbury took care of the rest by going 1-2-3 in the seventh to keep alive the Blue Devils’ hopes, which will likely ride on the right arm of fireballing Ohio State recruit Michalik today at Strongsville. Brunswick must win and hope Medina (12-10, 6-3) takes down Mentor (14-3, 7-2) to forge the first four-way championship in NOC history.
Considering the heartbreak the Blue Devils have endured, it would be a memorable comeback story.
“It’s not over yet, but we’ve got a little confidence going into (today),” Salisbury said.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.