Win, lose or draw, conference rivals Nordonia and Wadsworth enjoy a night to remember at the ballpark

FRANK ACETO Reporter
From left, Nordonia seniors Mike Hamrick, Nick Heiser and Ryan Short pose for a photo before a game against Wadsworth Thursday at Canal Park in Akron.

AKRON — A little more than eighteen years ago, a certain contest in Milwaukee ended with a rather feeble whimper.

Due to a lack of pitchers on both sides, then Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig abruptly decided to put the brakes on the 2002 All-Star Game.

When the head-scratching decision was made, this thrilling tug-of-war, which featured its fair share of twists and turns, ended in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings were completed.

Not surprisingly, things quickly got ugly as the players left the field.

Chants such as “Let them play!” or “Refund!” could be heard, along with “Bud must go!” from some irate fans.

By the way, Selig was the Brewers’ owner prior to becoming MLB’s czar. So much for nostalgia, huh?

On Thursday, a similar “controversy” took place. The Nordonia and Wadsworth baseball teams were deadlocked at seven runs apiece after nine innings of play.

And just like the 2002 midsummer classic, this memorable showdown between the two Suburban League National Conference rivals came to a screeching halt.

This time, though, no raucous booing took place. Thankfully, no bottles were tossed onto the diamond either. As a matter of fact, the atmosphere was quite jubilant.

And it was long overdue.

“It was a lot of fun,” Grizzlies head baseball coach Greg Pickard said. “I’m very happy for the seniors who got to get out here [Thursday]. I enjoy watching them.”

So what made this seemingly meaningless exhibition game so deliciously delightful?

The two teams were part of a socially-distant Senior Spotlight Series that took place at the Akron RubberDucks’ home field, Canal Park.

It’s a safe bet everybody involved had been licking their chops.

Unless one has lived in a cave in the last four-plus months, playing the grand old game in front of fans has been the equivalent of seeing a forest of acacias in the Sahara Desert.

Due to a deadly respiratory tract infection known as COVID-19, the sports world ceased operations indefinitely as mandatory worldwide lockdowns became the norm due to the dangerously high infection rate.

Fortunately, some sports, including baseball, have resumed activities in recent weeks. Sadly, this recent string of good news has done very little to pick up the spirits of many high school teenagers who eat, drink and breathe competition.

Since the virus was so treacherous, the Ohio High School Athletic Association canceled the entire spring season.

Thus, two passionate men were determined to give their players, particularly their seniors, a somewhat unusual but wonderfully breathtaking way to close out their incomplete high school seasons.

No, it didn’t include a state championship trophy. Heck, it didn’t even include a National Conference plaque.

However, it did include something far more satisfying: a chance to play a game they love with their most trusted boon companions one last time.

“It’s nice just to be able to get out here,” Knights head coach Drew Hoisington said. “The way everything happened throughout the spring, not knowing if we’d ever kind of get to suit up together again, was something that was really hard for me and for a lot of the guys here.”

Hoisington learned about this special event when two longtime Akron rivals, Archbishop Hoban and St. Vincent-St. Mary, decided to lace up their spikes and settle their differences earlier this month in a significantly more unorthodox manner than normal.

Such a concept sounded quite intriguing to the eighth-year Nordonia skipper. Therefore, he couldn’t wait to share his enthusiasm with a fellow “captain” of a National Conference ship.

Of course, this “Pickard” is more partial to a simple ballpark instead of the elaborate USS Enterprise.

“Drew actually reached out to me,” the 10th-year Wadsworth head coach said. “He called and said, ‘Hey, if it goes well, they’re going to do more. Can you get guys that want to play?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’

“It was really Coach Hoisington that got it going. He got us involved. I’m glad he did.”

An event known as the Senior Spotlight Series wouldn’t live up to its billing if it didn’t feature its own version of senior night.

Since that special occasion was ruthlessly destroyed by the global pandemic, seniors from both squads were honored prior to the game.

Pardon Hoisington if his mind may have wandered during the pregame festivities.

Why?

Eleven of those celebrated young men received their diplomas during the spring.

“It’s just a little bit of closure,” Hoisington said. “I would have loved to play a full season with them because this group was a very special group. It was the biggest class of seniors I’ve ever had. It’s definitely special to just kind of give us some closure at the end.”

Nordonia’s Class of 2020 comprised Mike Hamrick, Nick Heiser, Ryan Short, Aidan McFerren, Caleb Cunningham, Justin Lewis, Matt Yokiel, Zach Westbrooks, Jonny Carozza, Tyler Juriga and Luke Jackson.

Wadsworth said goodbye to a handful of seniors too. These distinguished gentlemen are Josh Bach, Chase Diosy, Logan Egleston, Rocco Horner and Jake Peebles.

As for the game itself, the Grizzlies manufactured a run in the top of the first before the Knights scored four times in the bottom half of the inning.

Cunningham delivered the biggest blow with a two-run single.

Wadsworth tied the game at four with two runs in the second and one in the third before Nordonia responded to regain its three-run advantage.

The Knights plated a pair of runners in the fourth and then added another run in the sixth to give them a 7-4 lead.

Nevertheless, the Grizzlies didn’t run for cover. They trimmed their margin to a single run in the seventh and then got a clutch run-scoring single from Egleston to tie the game with two outs in the ninth.

Both teams used several pitchers and unlike the Ohio High School Athletic Association rules, players moved in and out of the lineup as every member of both teams got a rare chance to enjoy high school baseball in the middle of the summer.

“It was nice to see some of the seniors have special days,” Pickard said. “We moved some guys around. It was an exhibition and we played that way.

“It also was nice to see some of our young guys get in some spots that we were hoping to see this year. I thought all our guys on the mound did pretty well.”

They enjoyed every second of it too.

Who said winning is everything? When it comes to Thursday’s outcome, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson may have the best rebuttal to this win-at-all-costs’ mentality.

“When everyone is included, everyone wins.”

“I wanted to meet together as a team and this was just the perfect opportunity,” Hoisington said. “Everybody had a great time. Just to play together and see the guys again was really great.”

Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, faceto@recordpub.com or @Faceto_Gannett.