GRANGER TWP. — Highland’s baseball team has mastered the ability to play small-ball.
The Hornets often win games by working the pitcher and pestering him on the basepaths, and it was no different Thursday in a 4-2 win over tenth-seeded Cuyahoga Falls in a Hudson Division I Sectional semifinal.
Fifth-seeded Highland (20-8), which clinched consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time in school history, advances to play at Nordonia today. The fourth-seeded Knights swept the Hornets in Suburban League play.
“One thing I’ve learned over the season is what type of character these guys have,” Highland coach Jay Grissom said. “We’ve had a number of games like today where we either answer or take the lead.”
After tying the game at 2 in the top of the fifth, the Black Tigers (14-9) got a tremendous play from shortstop Josh Mack, who turned a double play off a solid shot by Ricky Esker.
With the bases empty and two outs, the Hornets needed a spark from the middle of their lineup. It came via their ability to work pitcher Ben Nelson (2-1).
Following a Ryan Miller walk and a Luke Raley single, the Hornets were in business with cleanup hitter Anthony Ondrejcak at the plate.
To that point, Ondrejcak had lined to first and flew out to right. The third time around was a different story, as Ondrejcak knocked it to the right side of the field and found a hole.
Miller scored from second to put the Hornets up 3-2, and Ondrejcak and Raley advanced to second and third on the throw home. Raley then scored on a wild pitch and outstanding work from Highland starter Jacob Pries (7-2, 1.67) made the two-run lead stand up.
Pries, an All-Gazette right-hander, held Cuyahoga Falls to one earned run while striking out six in a complete game. Two of his strikeouts came in the third and fifth innings with runners in scoring position.
“Those strikeouts are huge,” Pries said. “You’re put in that spot and you have to perform. You never like to be in that spot. That’s never a good spot to be in as a pitcher, but at the same time you live for those moments.”
Junior left-hander Kenny Sanford (6-3, 3.08) is expected to get the start today against Nordonia.
“We’re really excited. We’re really confident,” Pries said. “We’re confident we can play with any team. If we come out and play our type of baseball, control the game, control the pace, we can beat anybody.”
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