MARION CENTER 5, HOMER-CENTER 2 -- Stingers send Wildcats to fifth straight loss
MARION CENTER — The baseball field at Marion Center Community Park wasn’t perfect on Monday, and neither were the two teams playing on it.
A series of afternoon showers and a handful of missed opportunities by both teams made for a sloppy Heritage Conference game between Homer-Center and Marion Center, who are headed in opposite directions in the Heritage Conference standings.
The Stingers plated four runs in the first inning, and Matt Shank pitched a complete game to lead Marion Center to a 5-2 victory over the Wildcats. Homer-Center (1-5) has lost five straight since winning its first game of the season, while the Stingers (5-1) picked up some confidence entering Wednesday’s game against first-place Blairsville.
“It wasn’t ideal conditions, but they had to deal with that as well,” Homer-Center coach Scott Bauer said. “I told the guys that I can stomach a loss like this surrounded by a couple wins, but now we’ve lost five straight, so any loss is going to be magnified that much more.
“They had a couple opportunities throughout the game to bust it wide open, but our defense and pitchers did a nice job to limit the damage. They kept it close and gave us an opportunity, but we didn’t take advantage.”
“We left some opportunities out there, too,” Marion Center coach Paul DeHaven said. “We missed a couple signs in one inning when we had a chance to advance a runner and a chance to score a run. Against a team like Homer-Center, you can’t leave those opportunities out there. Matt Shank pitched a good game, and we played really good defense behind him.”
The decision to play the game didn’t seem to be a difficult one as both teams — and many others in the area — are struggling to play all their scheduled games due to recent inclement weather.
“It wasn’t that bad,” Bauer said of the rain. “I was talking to Coach DeHaven before the game, and it was pretty much on the breaking point that if it rained any longer, we weren’t going to be able to play. Then it stopped a little bit, and they’re the home team so it’s ultimately their decision. But when you turn it over to the umpires, then it’s their decision.
“Honestly, we don’t have anywhere else to put a game in our schedule. We’re going to be playing four or five games a week. So we thought we’d give it a shot. The conditions are always for both teams.”
The Stingers built a 5-0 lead after two innings but never pulled away for a blowout win and left 12 runners on base.
Shank led off the bottom of the first with a bunt single, stole second and advanced to third on a passed ball as Jason Cribbs drew a walk from Homer-Center starter Anthony Caruso.
Travis Gaston then hit an RBI single to right, and Jake Bothell singled to center to load the bases. Mike Badzik and Kyle Kinter drew back-to-back walks to give the Stingers a 3-0 lead. Erik Hicks added an RBI single to right, but the Stingers left the bases loaded.
“(Pitching’s) been a focus of ours,” Bauer said. “We’ve walked almost 40 batters in six games, and we have to knock that off. That’s a trend I don’t want to continue. … We gave them seven or eight free base runners today, and they scored five runs. If you go back and look, I bet at least half of them scored.”
Caruso pitched five innings with four strikeouts, five walks, a hit batsman and seven hits allowed. Andrew Gaydosh walked one, hit one and gave up a single in one inning of relief for Homer-Center.
Shank struck out six and walked one while allowing five hits.
“It all starts with pitching, and the guys know that,” Bauer said. “I’m not picking on anybody, but I think our hitting has been plenty. Today, Matt did a really nice job scattering our hits. We just have to get back to work and have faith in one another. You can’t quit.”
Marion Center tacked on a run in the bottom of the second when Hunter Stiteler doubled and scored on Cribbs’ RBI single.
“We kept battling today,” DeHaven said. “We’ve had three come-from-behind wins this year, and this is probably the first game we’ve started out with a lead and kept the lead the whole way through the game. They just kept working. I know it sounds clich￩, but they just go an inning at a time.”
The Wildcats got on the board in the third inning when Ean Lee, who was a courtesy runner for catcher Bryan Buzi, scored on a passed ball. In the fifth inning, Buzi made it 5-2 with an RBI single to right, scoring Gaydosh.
“We’ve had some injuries this year,” Bauer said of Homer-Center’s slow start. “This was Anthony’s first start and second game, and Ean Lee was just released. We knew there’s always a chance we won’t get all of our guys back, but we’ll push forward. I asked the guys if somebody angered the baseball gods because as of right now, it seems we just can’t catch a break.”
“Homer-Center is a quality team,” DeHaven said. “I talked to Coach Bauer throughout the year, and we knew coming into the season they were going to have a strong team. He’s finally getting some kids back that have been injured, so I think the second time around with them will be a whole different story.”
DeHaven and the Stingers can hope that their second time around with Blairsville will be different. The Bobcats, who suffered their first loss Monday to Ligonier Valley, 7-5, crushed the Stingers, 14-4, in the first meeting between the two teams. Marion Center welcomes Blairsville on Wednesday.
“We’re a different team than the first time we played Blairsville,” DeHaven said. “They’re a very good team, and they are going to be tough to beat, but I like the way our kids are performing right now.”