CLEVELAND — The corner of Carnegie and Ontario has been a field of dreams for Highland’s baseball team over the years. On Sunday, Progressive Field turned into a place the Hornets would just as soon forget.
While the memories of playing in the Cleveland Indians home park will last, the fact Highland lost for the first time in three appearances left a bit of a sting in a 12-2 loss at the Hardball Classic.
The Panthers (7-3) struck early and often in the mercy-rule shortened affair.
“I think it was a little bit of nerves, but it’s just poor execution in general,” Hornets coach Jay Grissom said. “We didn’t make plays that we normally do and that I know that we can.”
The problem for Highland (2-3) was the Panthers were doing everything right. While playing in the 11th annual event is more about the experience and less about the X’s and O’s — Grissom used five pitchers — it was tough to find much wrong with anything Elyria Catholic did.
The Panthers scored two unearned runs in the second on a two-out single by Angelo Cruz to take the lead for good and hand Cam Peebles the loss in his first outing of the season.
But it was a wild third inning really set the stage for Elyria Catholic, as Garrett Mennenga lasted just one-third of an inning.
By the time his line was closed, the junior allowed seven runs — four earned — on five hits with a walk. There were two errors in the frame as the Panthers rolled to a 12-1 lead.
Thirteen batters made an appearance in the inning as Elyria Catholic pounded out eight hits to put the game away early.
“You see it in baseball all the time at every level,” Grissom said. “It’s a contagious thing. Already this season we’ve had two innings where we scored six runs or more.
“That one guy bloops one in, maybe there’s an error, and all of a sudden it’s a revolving door. It can be very tough to stop because everyone in that box is expecting to hit in the gap somewhere.”
The revolving door allowed Norbert Velez (1-0) to slam his, as the right-hander went four innings of two-hit ball, allowing one earned run while striking out three.
“When I get a lot of runs, it’s not hard,” Velez said. “You just have to focus on doing your thing and not get mad. That’s what I did out there. You just take a deep breath on the mound and start hitting the strike zone.”
The game wasn’t a complete catastrophe, however, as Grissom was able to sub in players to give everyone an opportunity to take home memories that will last a lifetime.
One surely came from Brandon Miller, who had a RBI double in the fifth inning. Another came from Ashton Budzinski, who had an RBI triple to center field in the second inning.
“It’s awesome to play here,” Budzinski said. “You can’t even describe it. Seeing everything out there, being in the batter’s box, it’s everything.
“It’s unbelievable. You think of the Indians players that have played here and all the great players, just to be out there is awesome.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elyria Catholic 12, Highland 2 (5 inn.)
Cleveland Indians Hardball Classic at Progressive Field
HIGHLAND 010 01 — 2 3 3
ELYRIA CATHOLIC 129 0x — 12 11 1
WP — Norbert Valez (1-0) 4 innings, 1 run, 1 earned, 2 hits, 5 walks, 3 strikeouts. LP — Cam Peebles (0-1) 1 inning, 2 runs, 0 earned, 1 strikeout. Highland (2-3) — Ashton Budzinski triple; Brandon Miller double. Elyria Catholic (7-3) — Angelo Cruz 2 singles, 3 RBIs, 2 runs; Noah Bland 2 triples, 3 RBIs, 2 runs; Joey Begany triple; Christian Stanzano 2 singles; Jeremy Smith single, double, 2 runs.