Last year, the early part of the season was a huge struggle for the Stow-Munroe Falls baseball team.
The Bulldogs started this year with a split, but they seem to be ready to rock.
Stow dropped its season opener to Massillon Perry March 25 by a score of 8-4 at home. However, the Bulldogs rebounded by defeating Wadsworth 8-3 on the road March 30 in their Suburban League National Conference opener.
According to Stow coach Aaron DeBord, it's the first home loss Wadsworth had suffered since opening its new home field three years ago.
Stow's record stood at 1-1, 1-0 in the National Conference at press time.
Against Perry, Stow spotted the Panthers a 5-0 lead after three innings, as starter Collin Lang was roughed up a bit. Lang gave up five runs (two earned) off five hits and two walks in three innings of work.
The Panthers banged out eight hits against Stow pitching.
"We just didn't throw a lot of strikes early in the game," DeBord said. "We put Perry in a lot of fastball counts and they took advantage. Perry has a very good team this year."
Stow was able to get on the board in the fifth inning, thanks to a single by Matt Conger and a throwing error, which allowed Conger to score.
In the sixth inning, back-to-back singles from Conger and Brett Rhodes were followed by another error, which allowed the Bulldogs to score and make it 7-3.
Back-to-back walks in the seventh inning were followed by an RBI single from Conger to make it 8-4, but Stow would get no closer.
"We did a good job battling back, but we had too much ground to make up," DeBord said. "We had a lot of balls that we hit right at people. The offense wasn't bad. We easily could have scored two or three more runs if we had found holes."
Offense was not a problem at all against the Grizzlies, as Stow banged out 14 hits in the win.
"It was good," DeBord said. "Wadsworth has been kind of the king of the league the last few years. It was important for us to get off to a good start in the league. We took an important first step."
In the first inning, Stow third baseman Thomas McLaughlin led off with a single, followed by a single from Jordan Jolly and an RBI single from first baseman Eric Schilling to make it 1-0.
Wadsworth tied the game at 1-1 after one inning, but Stow took command of the game with four runs in the third inning.
In the top of the third, catcher Drew Bradley led off with a triple to left center and scored on an RBI single by McLaughlin. A walk by Jolly and a single by Schilling loaded the bases, but McLaughlin was thrown out at the plate on a fielder's choice.
Stow kept coming with an RBI single from Rhodes and a bases-loaded walk from designated hitter Griffin Mohney. Finally, an RBI single from shortstop Nick O'Verko made it 5-1.
That was plenty of run support for Stow starting pitcher Evan Bainbridge. Though he was on a tight pitch count, Bainbridge pitched four innings, allowing two runs (one earned) off five hits with four strikeouts.
"Evan did a great job," DeBord said. "With it being the first start after basketball season, we wanted to make sure he was on a pitch count. All of our pitchers did a great job that day."
Senior Steve Falbo gave up an earned run in the fifth, while sophomore Colin Harris and Schilling each pitched a scoreless inning of relief.
Stow added a run in the sixth, as O'Verko doubled and came home on an RBI single from Bradley.
Schilling put an exclamation point on the win in the seventh by blasting a two-run homer over the left-field fence.
"We've got a lot of of depth in the lineup this year," DeBord said. "We've got no real holes."
Rain postponed Stow's second game with Wadsworth twice last week. The Bulldogs were set to try again March 31, before traveling to Solon April 1 for a rematch of last year's Division I regional final. Results of these games were not available at press time.
"We've very excited to get out there and see them on the field again," DeBord said of the Solon game.
Stow returns to National Conference action this week by hosting Nordonia April 4 and traveling to Nordonia April 5. First pitch both days is set for 4:30 p.m.