Build back better? Shannon looks to reignite Falls baseball

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Cuyahoga Falls baseball coach Brian Shannon hands the ball off to relief pitcher Hunter Novak during the second inning of a baseball game against Archbishop Hoban, Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in Akron, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]
Cuyahoga Falls starting pitcher Damien Smith delivers a pitch to a Hoban batter during the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in Akron, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

AKRON — Put yourself in Brian Shannon's shoes in the winter of 2020.

After years of working as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Shannon received the opportunity to take over the Cuyahoga Falls program from Scott Koenig.

A 1998 graduate, Shannon played for the Black Tigers during their last golden era of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Falls finished as state runner-up in Division I in 1999 and reached the state final four again in 2003.

Since that time, Falls has slid far away from the state's elite and has struggled to compete in the Suburban League National Conference.

Shannon was ready to change that last spring. With a 14-man senior class and a new attitude, he wanted to start the fight back towards Falls' glory days.

Then a global pandemic put Shannon's plans on ice.

It's clear Shannon still wishes he could have coached the Class of 2020 during its senior year.

Cuyahoga Falls' Nick Deckert, left, is mobbed by teammates as he enters the dugout after scoring during the first inning of a baseball game against Archbishop Hoban, Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in Akron, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

"I've said it a million times — my heart breaks for each and every one of those guys," Shannon said. "This here is a new time, and we've got to move forward."

Even with a new crop of Black Tigers largely devoid of the varsity experience, the goal remains the same for Shannon in the long term.

"I've been telling them, there is a process," Shannon said. "We're trying to make sure we're doing the right thing. We have expectations. Right now, we just need to do a better job executing."

Rome wasn't built in a day and Cuyahoga Falls baseball won't be resurrected overnight. It hasn't helped that Falls' season has started against two parochial school powers.

"It is one day at a time for us," Shannon said. "We need to be able to focus on that."

After a 10-0 loss Tuesday at Canton Central Catholic, Falls had a wait extra time Wednesday at Archbishop Hoban due to a snafu with umpire scheduling.

Once the game began, the result left Falls as cold as the weather, as the Knights pounded out a 13-1 win in five innings.

"To be the best, you've got to beat the best," Shannon said. "We compete with every pitch. They just did a great job going to right field."

Hoban starting pitcher Connor Butler winds up a pitch for a Cuyahoga Falls batter during the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in Akron, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

Hoban coach Andrew Bonnette said his team's offense did a great job helping the Knights break a two-game early season skid.

"The nice thing was we stayed patient," Bonnette said. "Our hitters did a great job going to the opposite field."

Falls (0-2) scored its first run of the season in the top of the first when lead-off hitter Nick Deckert walked, stole second and third and scored on a throwing error.

That would be it for Falls' offense, however, as Hoban pitchers Connor Butler and Dillon Walsh combined to allow just two infield hits. Butler picked up the win with three innings of work.

Tyler Harris got an infield single in the fourth, and first baseman Dylan Grochowski beat out a throw from shortstop in the fifth.

Hoban's offense had no such issues, as the Knights banged out 10 hits, drew seven walks and took advantage of two Falls errors.

Falls starting pitcher Damien Smith lasted only 1⅓ innings in his first start of the year, giving up eight earned runs on six hits and three walks.

"His fastball had some zip on it," Shannon said. "They just were able to make contact."

Hoban baserunner Thomas Crowe rounds second on his way to third after a hit to right field during the second inning of a baseball game against Cuyahoga Falls, Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in Akron, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

Hoban had plenty of offensive heroes, but first baseman Zach Zimmerman had the best game, going 3-of-3 with three runs, three RBI and a double.