STRONGSVILLE — Medina got it 86 percent right Thursday. The only problem: High school baseball is a seven-inning game and one bad frame can mean the difference between a win and loss.
Playing a crucial Northeast Ohio Conference River Division game against Strongsville, the Bees were flat out of the chute and it ultimately led to a 4-1 defeat.
That first inning was the difference, as Medina (9-9, 4-2) gave up three runs to put itself in a hole.
“We put the first two guys on,” Bees coach Nick Kaplack said. “We had a chance at a 1-6-3 double play. We didn’t turn it. The guys were ready to play. They just didn’t execute out of the gate.”
The Mustangs (9-3, 5-2) reached on two consecutive walks before the potential double play led to just one out thanks to hesitation in the field.
A hit-and-run brought in the first run and was followed by a run off an error. It looked like the Bees were going to get out of the inning off a deep fly ball from Nick Stewart when they had Jake Bokar stuck in no-man’s land between first and second, but Colin Minor’s throw to first hit Bokar’s helmet and allowed Caleb Thomas to score.
Just like that, Medina was down three despite allowing just one hit, although Austin Havekost (2-2) placed the blame on himself.
“I just wasn’t ready,” he said. “I needed to get ahead early and get ahead of my fastball. If I can’t do that, it’s going to be a long day.
“We got here a little late, so I didn’t throw hard enough in the bullpen. The first inning kind of showed that because I was still feeling around. After that I got my command down.”
While control was a bit of an issue for Havekost, who walked seven, the junior right-hander topped out at 89 mph and gave up just three hits while striking out six.
The problem was Alex Barnes (3-0) was equally good for the Mustangs, as the right-hander worked fast — he made only 72 pitches — in a six-hit, two-strikeout performance.
“I thought he was great from the start,” Strongsville coach Doug Cicerchi said. “He was ready to go from pitch one. There’s a lot of great pitchers in this league. The kid (Kade) McClure from Mentor is going to Louisville. The kid we saw today (Havekost) is good, but I’ll take the guy we have over anyone in the conference.
“I don’t know if he has better stuff than anyone in the conference, but I haven’t seen anyone compete like he does. I thought he was ready to go.”
Medina got a break when North Royalton knocked off Mentor 7-4 Thursday. That leaves a logjam at the top as the Cardinals (9-4, 5-2), Bears (11-4, 5-2) and Mustangs are all tied for first in the division. That Bees are a game back.
“We stress the importance of every game now,” Kaplack said. “We started 1-6, now we’re 9-9. If you look (at Strongsville), you see 12 senior banners. I have a team with four seniors, two of which played last year and one that is hurt.
“This team is gaining valuable experience about getting ready for conference games and the stress to win every game. I think it will be just like last year. We’ll be 7-3 and so will everybody else. We’ll stay focused and I think we’ll grab a share of it again.”
Step one in getting back into the race happens when Medina finishes its season series with Strongsville today. The host Bees will go with Matt Whittaker (3-2), while Mike Jones (2-1) or Brandon Lekan (1-0) will start for the Mustangs.
“We use this for motivation,” Havekost said. “Strongsville is a rival. We don’t like each other. Our confidence is still up. ‘Whitty’ is throwing. He’s a great lefty. They’ll have trouble with him. We just have to hit and play defense.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.