Play Ball! Twinsburg and Woodridge baseball celebrate return to the field
TWINSBURG — In some ways, it was the perfect spring day Saturday at Dodge Field.
After last year's lost season, Twinsburg and Woodridge radiated excitement just to get back on the baseball field.
And the Twinsburg coaching staff was counting how long it had been.
"700 days and we're finally playing ball again," Twinsburg coach Jeff Luca said. "It's a big deal to be back out here, especially on a beautiful day like today.
The infield practice seemed crisper.
The chatter in the dugouts from both teams seemed louder.
Even home plate umpire John Durst put in a bit more emphasis when he bellowed "Play Ball!" to start the game.
"It's good to be back on the field for the kids," Durst said.
Opening Day had a special feel for all involved, even for veterans like Luca and Woodridge coach Dennis Dever.
"It's nice to be out here again after we lost last year," Dever said. "Hopefully, the guys realize how special it is to be out here playing baseball, regardless of the result."
The game also marked the return to the dugout of longtime Tigers coach Don Jones as an assistant. The ever-energetic Jones said he felt "like a little kid" in his return to the diamond.
"The kids came out with a purpose today," Jones said.
Dever and Luca each came into the game not quite sure what to expect.
The Tigers lost 12 seniors to graduation last spring, and the Bulldogs lost 11. What's more, the majority of those alumni are playing baseball at the collegiate level.
So both teams started the 2021 season all but devoid of varsity experience.
Thanks to a big fifth inning, the Tigers made sure it was an early game.
Twinsburg scored seven runs in the bottom of the fifth, breaking open a close game to score a 10-0 win via the mercy rule.
"It was a really good game for us," Luca said. "Henry Holman pitched a great game for us and [catcher] Max Hollan was great as well. Our battery was in control throughout the entire game."
Holman earned the first win of his varsity career. A junior, Holman pitched four-plus innings of shutout ball, allowing three hits with three hit batsman and three strikeouts.
Woodridge starting pitcher Antonio Fitzsimmons (0-1) had a decent outing, allowing three earned runs on four hits with one walk and one strikeout.
Woodridge also committed the game's lone error and had several other mistakes.
"We've told our guys, even yesterday, that baseball is really a simple game of catch," Dever said. "That's something, unfortunately, that they did a lot better than us today.
"We're going to struggle until we grasp the defensive and offensive concepts that we're teaching here. One good thing I'll take from today is our team enthusiasm was great in the dugout. If we can focus on the game, I'll think we'll be able to turn things around."
Twinsburg had several stars on offense, but junior shortstop Chris Bryant shined brightest in his varsity debut.
Along with an RBI double in the third inning to score Jack Lyden, Bryant had two big plays in the decisive fifth inning.
Bryant put down a perfect bunt single and later scored. He then ended the game with a two-run double and finished 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBI.
"I came out here and was just excited to play baseball again," Bryant said. "I just [the last pitch] going high and just threw the bat at it."
"He was a leader out there today in the field and at the plate," Luca said of Bryant. "He's done a great job for us."
Bryant was part of a 4-6-3 double play to end the top of the fourth inning.
In the bottom of the fourth, Kyan Barnes hit a lead-off single and scored on an RBI triple from second baseman Gavin McCoy. McCoy then scored on a wild pitch to make it 3-0 after four innings.
Woodridge's best scoring chance came in the top of the fifth. Freshman Steve Duffy led off with a single, followed by a double by Will Schmeltzer over the left fielder's head.
That spelled the end for Holman, but with two on and no out, Barnes came on in relief and struck out two Bulldogs to escape the jam with no runs scored.
"Kyan did a great job for us coming in and closing it out," Luca said.
Duffy relieved Fitzsimmons to start the bottom of the fifth, but his first high school appearance was a nightmare.
A lead-off double from center fielder Reggie Bussey was followed by Bryan's bunt single, an RBI single from right fielder Jeremy Tonelli and a two-run single from first baseman Kaden Kimmel to give the Tigers a 6-0 lead.
Duffy then hit the next two batters and gave up an RBI walk to McCoy. Dever then sent Ashton Nesbitt on in relief.
Nesbitt walked Hollan to score another run, but nearly got out of it with a strikeout and a force out at the plate.
Bryant invoked the mercy rule, however, when he smacked a two-run double to the warning track in left.
The Tigers and Bulldogs won't have to wait long to see each other again. Woodridge will host Twinsburg Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.