AURORA — Since the formation of the Suburban League American Conference, baseball games between Aurora and Tallmadge have often had huge bearing on the conference title race.
Both teams have undergone roster overhauls this spring, but the rivalry between the two programs remains hot.
In a sometimes sloppy contest Wednesday at Aurora, Tallmadge took better advantage of its scoring opportunities to score at 7-5 win over the Greenmen. Tallmadge improved to 4-1 overall as it won its American Conference opener, while Aurora dropped to 2-3, 0-2 in the conference.
With Tallmadge head coach Kenny Linn absent due a death in his family, Blue Devil assistant coach Ben Shepherd said his team did what it had to do.
"We came back from Myrtle Beach and had a couple days off," Shepherd said. "We were knocking the rust off. It’s never easy to come here and win. They’ve got such a program. Did we play a flawless game? No, but winning here is always big."
Aurora coach Michael Brancazio rued his team’s missed opportunities.
"I wasn’t pleased with our approach at the plate at all," Brancazio said. "We took way too many third-pitch strikes. As I told the guys, we’re not going to walk our way to a state title."
Brancazio had reason to be disappointed. While Aurora batters drew 12 walks and one hit batsman on the day, the Greenmen had only four hits and left 12 men on base.
Shepherd said Tallmadge pitcher need to get out of the habit of offering so many free passes.
"We’ve definitely got a lot to work on," Shepherd said.
While both starting pitchers had control issues, Tallmadge’s Sam Seeker got the win (2-0) as he gave up two earned runs off one hit with eight strikeouts and eight walks.
"He lost the strike zone a little bit, but when Sam is one, he’s one of the best pitchers in the area,"
Tallmadge took the lead off Aurora starter Colin Skolaris (1-1) in the top of the third inning. After a single by Luke Thomas and a walk to catcher Richie Eyre, Seeker belted a two-run double to the fence in right-center field. Seeker later scored on a wild pitch to make it 3-0.
Skolaris took the loss, giving up three earned runs on three hits with three strikeouts in three innings of work.
"We’re asking a freshman to go out there and pitch against Tallmadge," Brancazio said. "I think all of our pitchers did a good job."
Aurora got two runs back in the bottom of the fourth. After a single by shortstop Chase Gerbrick, two walks and a wild pitch allowed Gerbrick to score. Tallmadge then lifted Seeker in favor of Jake Reifsnyder, but he was greeted by an RBI single from Aurora catcher Colin McNamara to make it 3-2.
Reifsnyed escaped further damage by getting designated hitter Carter Gerbrick to hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. He game up three earned runs in two full inning of relief.
Tallmadge looked to take command of the game with four runs in the top of the sixth. Left fielder Joe Ellis led off with an infield single. Pinch runner Niko Roldan then went to second on a sacrifice bunt, moved to third when Thomas walked and scored on a double steal. Thomas later scored on a fielder’s choice by Andrew Ayres, as the ball was dropped as he crossed home plate.
Tallmadge’s big hit in the sixth was a two-run single from second baseman Owen Jascoe to make to 7-2.
While Tallmadge finished with eight hits, Shepard praised his team for getting "very timely" hits.
"The bottom of the order did a great job getting on base for us," Shepherd said. "We didn’t always execute, we did a good job getting on base."
Aurora responded in the bottom of the sixth. After a two-run single by center fielder Cooper Bizjak, Aurora drew three straight walks to plate Bizjak and make it 7-5.
"Cooper Bizjak had a great game," Brancazio said, as the senior finished 2-2 with two singles, three walks, two RBIs and a run scored.
Aurora had the tying runs on base in both the sixth and seventh inning, but Tallmadge reliever Todd Bangston escaped the jam twice, getting McNamara to ground into a force out at third base to end the game. Bangston picked up a save for his efforts.
Tallmadge is set for another big American Conference test Thursday at 4:30 p.m. at Kent Roosevelt before traveling to Uniontown Lake Friday at 5 p.m.
Meanwhile, Aurora will host Barberton Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in conference action before traveling to Painesville Riverside for a doubleheader Saturday at 11 a.m.