High school baseball: Walsh wins pitchers' duel to claim Cuyahoga Falls City Baseball Classic
CUYAHOGA FALLS — About 15 years ago, Woodridge baseball coach Dennis Dever had a cool idea.
Reflecting on the quality that had flowed out of Cuyahoga Falls, Woodridge, Walsh Jesuit and Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, Dever proposed and organized a tournament to see who was the best baseball team in the Falls.
With then Mayor Don Robart throwing out of the first pitch in 2008, the Cuyahoga Falls City Baseball Classic was born.
Thirteen years and a pandemic later, Dever is proud to see his creation going strong.
"It's a great tournament," Dever said. "All four teams have had a lot of quality baseball over the years. It's a good, friendly rivalry for all of us and we're only 15 minutes away from each other."
"Coach Dever does a good job organizing this every year," Walsh coach Chris Kaczmar said. "We really look forward to it."
Dever and Kaczmar have matched wits since the tournament began with Walsh winning the inaugural tournament in 2008 and the most recent in 2019.
CVCA coach Jason Herblet is a relative newcomer to the tournament, but proud to be part of it.
"I love the idea of this tournament and the chance to play against these teams," Herblet said. "There's some pretty good baseball in this town."
The 2021 Falls City Baseball Classic was a two-day affair Friday and Saturday across the city, though day one produced a pair of lopsided semifinals.
In frigid conditions at CVCA Friday, the Royals took advantage of 12 walks from Woodridge pitching to score a 13-0 win in five innings over the Bulldogs.
Herblet said he was able to throw his top two pitchers for the Classic, Royals starter Alex Singh (3-0) allowed just two hits in four scoreless innings against Woodridge.
Across the road at Walsh on Friday, the Warriors banged out 19 hits against Cuyahoga Falls, highlighted by home runs from sophomores Mason Eckelmann, Justin Bremner and Joey Canzoni.
It all added up to a 17-0 win in five innings for Walsh, setting up an all-Wyoga Lake Road showdown in the title game.
The pitchers' duel that ensured Saturday was worthy of a cup final.
Walsh's Ryan Piech and CVCA's Andrew Hendrickx went toe-to-toe for six innings, but the Warriors were able to push two runs across to edge the Royals 2-1 and retain the cup.
Both coaches tipped their hats to the opposing pitchers.
"CVCA really did well today," Kaczmar said. "Andrew Hendrickx pitched a heck of a game. We were lucky enough to scratch a couple of of runs over.
"We needed a game like this. Their hitters did a good job against Ryan, but we played some good defense."
"It was a fun pitchers' duel," Herblet said. "[Piech] was the best pitcher we have faced all year, by far. We jumped on him for a couple batters in the first inning. Once he settled in, he was dominant."
Piech's only bobble came in the first two batters. He hit Royals leadoff man Tyler Wise and allowed a double to catcher Trevor Vojtkofsky. Wise scored on a wild pitch to make it 1-0.
After that, Piech was almost unhittable. He finished by allowing just two hits and striking out 12 in his six innings of work.
"I started a little slow," Piech said. "The whole team was scrapping to get those runs in. I was really feeling it in warm-ups. I was able to control my slider throughout the game."
Hendrickx wasn't quite as sharp, but worked out of multiple jams to keep the Royals close. He allowed two earned runs on three hits with eight strikeouts and seven walks in 5⅓ innings.
"He wasn't his best, but he competed well out there," Herblet said. "We knew he would give us a chance against them. To hold them to three hits is a pretty good outing."
Walsh tied the game in the bottom of the second when an RBI single from shortstop Jake Armey plated left fielder Will Harding.
In the bottom of the fourth, Walsh designated hitter Kasey Kish manufactured the winning run. Kish walked, went to second on a strikeout, stole third base and came home on a throwing error to make it 2-1.
Walsh had a chance to break it open in the bottom of the sixth. Royals relief pitcher Josh Stalnaker gave up two walks to load the bases but Walsh first baseman Erik Stern flew out to deep left to end the threat.
It ended up not mattering.
Walsh closer John Simecek slammed the door with a 1-2-3 seventh inning to earn the save.
"John is an extremely talented young man," Kaczmar said. "He's one of the sophomores that we are very high on."
In the third-place game Saturday, Falls and Woodridge also played a competitive game at Water Works Park.
Falls scored a 4-2 win over the Bulldogs to take third place. The Black Tigers played error-free ball behind pitcher Joey Medkeff, who earned the win.