The Little League 12U Ohio District 4 finals table has been set, but only after a rugged game in Gnadenhutten earned Tuscarawas County a spot in the title game against Dover.
On Tuesday, July 11, after waiting a day due to a rain-out, Tusc. County hosted East Holmes for the opportunity to advance to the district final game. TC eventually emerged as a 6-3 victor, but it wasn’t easy, as both teams made some great plays, came up with some timely hits, got some fantastic pitching and showed they were not going to back down until the final out of the game.
East Holmes came into the game hoping to rectify a 9-3 loss that Tusc. County hung on it in round robin play. In that game East Holmes held a 2-0 lead until midway through the game when Tusc. County had one large inning to put the game away.
While this game was closer, the end result and how the teams got there were eerily similar to that first game.
East Holmes jumped all over Tusc. County starter Breydan Parsons for three runs in the first inning. Alec Weaver led the game off with an infield single. Braden Kaufman drew a walk, and after both runners moved up with one out, Jack Hershberger lashed a single to left to score the game’s first run. With runners on the corner, Brady Yoder scorched a shot to third that went for an error and scored run number two, and Garrett Troyer’s RBI ground-out to second produced the third run. However, with two outs, Sammy Detweiler sent a screamer to the wall in center field. Brady Yoder got a poor jump from second base and didn’t round third well, and when Detweiler went flying into second base, Tusc. County center fielder Brayden Troyer threw a perfect strike to second to nail Detweiler. Yoder was unable to score before the third out was made.
“That was a huge out for us because it kind of got us going,” Tusc. County head coach Jamie Burcher said.
However, it took a little while for Tusc. County’s bats to get going against East Holmes starter Nolan Yoder, who rolled through the first two innings, striking out three and not allowing a hit, but the game’s turning point came in the third inning.
Nolan Yoder and Bradey Yoder hit a single and double around a pair of outs, and with two outs Garrett Troyer battled Parsons through a nine-pitch at-bat in which Troyer kept fighting off good pitches. He then found one he liked and hit a bullet to third, where Tusc. County’s Rafe Bonifay snared it and fired across the diamond for the out, preventing two runs from scoring on a play that would have made it 5-0.
Tusc. County then made its big move, just as it had done in the earlier contest.
Xander Heil led off with a walk. Bonifay reached on an error, and after Ryker Kissell went down on strikes, Cole Lancaster produced a ground-rule double that one-hopped the wall in left to make it 3-1. That seemed to ignite the Tusc. County bats.
“Any time Cole comes up, he is a threat to hit one out, and he nailed that one, and it kind of got us excited and in the game,” Burcher said.
Coach Jerry Yoder chose to intentionally walk big-hitting clean-up batter Kale Kochman, but Parsons made East Holmes pay by drilling a two-run double to right to tie the score at 3-3. East Holmes got the second out on a bunt, leaving runners on second and third, and appeared to be out of the woods, but then Tanyon McCombs hit a sharp grounder to third that Brady Yoder made a nifty snag on. However, his throw to first sailed high and wide, allowing Tusc. County to take a 5-3 lead.
“That inning took a lot out of us mentally, and we never really recovered,” coach Yoder said. East Holmes never really put together a major threat after that as Parsons and Kissell, who relieved Parsons with two outs in the fifth inning, were solid the rest of the way.
Tusc. County did manage to sneak across a big insurance run in the fourth when Bonifay walked, went to third on a single off the bat of Lancaster and scored when East Holmes shortstop Detweiler’s throw on an attempted double play sailed wide of first, allowing Bonifay to scamper home.
“I think we made some mental mistakes and allowed them to get back in the game,” coach Yoder said. “We had that great start, and I thought Nolan really pitched a nice game against a team that can really hit. He gave us a chance to win, and that is all you can ask. But once we started making some mental mistakes, we got down and never really snapped out of it.”
For Tusc. County the comeback win was akin to the one they pulled off earlier, and Burcher said he felt the experience his team possesses came up big in this one.
“First, Breydan did a fantastic job of staying composed after that first inning, and he really settled in and threw a great game,” Burcher said. “He is used to being in those kinds of tight situations. That was a big spot for us, and he helped settle us down. These kids are a very experienced team, and they know this game is more than one inning, and they know we can work our way back into a game.”
Having previously beaten East Holmes in a game that was closer than the 9-3 score would indicate, Burcher said they tried to use that victory to instill confidence in their kids, but he also told them to expect East Holmes to come out hungry to show they could win.
“We know them pretty well, and they always play us tough,” Burcher said. “We play each other every year, and they always give us a good game. Even though we won earlier, I knew that game didn’t mean a whole lot because they were going to come out ready to go, and they did. Fortunately we were able to respond.”
While the two teams were foes on this night, East Holmes actually has several players that play with Burcher’s group in travel ball.
“This has been a great group of kids to coach, and we’ve taken this core group since they have been 8 years old, and they have done well,” coach Yoder said. “They’re a talented group and a lot of fun to coach because they work hard and enjoy playing together.”
Tusc. County advanced to face Dover for all of the marbles with Dover crushing North Canton 17-0 in the other semifinal game. That game was played the next night at Dover. Dover defeated Tusc. County 5-4 in a thriller in round robin play, and TC even had a 4-0 lead late in that game until a rough inning allowed Dover to collect the win.