Eagles remain in hunt for NBC co-championship


MILLBURY — Eastwood baseball’s Northern Buckeye Conference co-championship hopes remain alive after the Eagles concluded a 5-4 nine-inning victory at Lake Wednesday.

“I’m proud of the guys because it would have been easy to come over here and roll over and say, ‘Whatever happens here happens,’” Eastwood coach Kevin Leady said. “We were in a tough spot and we came back and we fought hard and we won.”

The two teams resumed play in the bottom of the seventh after a collision in the outfield left two Eastwood outfielders with concussions and one with a broken arm, suspending the game nearly one month ago.

One of those players, center fielder Brandon Falls, is out of his cast and entering rehab, while left fielder Brock Messinger played a role in Eastwood’s victory Wednesday.

“You know, I’ll tell you I had a lot of anxious nerves in my belly coming here tonight,” Leady said.

“Just all day long knowing that — I told them right there when we put our arms around each other, I said, ‘We did this like three or four weeks ago after it all happened,’ and I told them, ‘Eventually we had to move forward.’

“Brandon was here tonight, and obviously he’s not going to be in our lineup all year long, but sometimes adversity changes you for the better,” Leady continued.

“That was our conversation out there — I think we’re much tighter as a team because we had to go through something like that.”

Eastwood is now 20-3 overall and 10-3 in the NBC with one league game remaining at Maumee Monday. Lake is 11-3 in the conference and has already clinched a share of the league title.

“You know, I talked to them last night about how proud of them I was and to add a year to the banner,” Lake coach Casey Witt said. “Tonight doesn’t change that. Now we just turn the focus toward the tournament on Friday.”

Before the game was suspended on April 18, Eastwood was up, 4-3, when Lake’s Gavin Kohlhofer led off the home half of the inning with a line drive deep to left center as Messinger and Falls converged on the ball.

Both players collided with each other as Kohlhofer rounded the bases for a game-tying inside-the-park home run. Messinger and Falls remained down as coaches and medical personnel went to check the situation.

The game was halted for the next 15 to 30 minutes as each player received medical attention before ultimately being stretchered off the field, and eventually the game was suspended to Wednesday.

Lake still had no outs in the bottom of the seventh with hopes of scoring the walk-off run and playing just one-half inning of baseball. It nearly happened that way.

With Eastwood pitcher Andrew Badenhop on the mound, the first batter, Drew Tajblik, took the count full before reaching on a walk, then stole second and third.

After Badenhop got Jay Blazevich to strike out and walked Ryan Wagner, Jack Sobzack hit a short fly ball to right field, which was fielded by Eastwood’s Connor Norton on the run.

Tajblik tried to tag and score, but Norton threw a dime to Eastwood catcher Xander Gruelich, who had Tajblik beat by four steps and easily tagged him out to complete the double play.

“To come over here to catch the ball in right field and throw somebody out just to get into the next inning was incredible,” Leady said. “What a play by Connor. Then, we grinded one out.”

After a scoreless eighth with each team going down in order, Eastwood’s Paul Lautzenheiser led off the ninth by drilling a two-base shot to the left field fence.

Messinger’s sacrifice bunt advanced Lautzenheiser to third, and he scored on a Texas League bloop single to center field by Colton Woodward.

In the bottom of the ninth, Badenhop struck out the side swinging on the third pitch. Badenhop finished with three scoreless innings in relief, taking over for Lautzenheiser, who had started the game, and Badenhop struck out six.

“I had to get locked in from the start and get really focused because there wasn’t any room for error,” Badenhop said.

“I took the first inning to get settled in and fortunately Connor made a tremendous play. We’ll have to thank him for that. Had to settle in, that was the big thing, and then obviously we scratched a run across there.”

Leady added, “It says a lot about Andrew. That’s a guy who has been huge for us for many, many years. He hasn’t lost many games. We knew we’d save him for tonight and he would really give us a chance at winning.”

Messinger was proud to have played a part in getting the win with his sacrifice bunt, which was not an easy pitch from Blazevich to lay down.

“It was pretty crazy,” Messinger said. “That ball was pretty high and I just got it up and put it down and advanced Paul to third, and Woody scored him.”

Leady added, “There is so many things that won’t go down in the scorebook. That’s huge — we got him to third base and a base hit scores him. There is a million ways to score from third, there is not many ways to score from second.”

On Friday, Eastwood takes on the winner of Columbus Grove and Allen East for the right to advance to the Division III district tournament, and then it’s off to Maumee to try and secure a co-championship.

“The job is not done yet,” Messinger said. “We’ve got to beat Maumee first and take it one game at a time, and after every game it’s 0-0.”

Badenhop added, “It’s good. Obviously we’ve had a lot of adversity to fight through. We’ve always had to stick together and got a big sectional game coming up on Friday, got to get locked back in for that, regroup, and then Maumee on Monday for the league so that is going to be huge.”

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