High School Baseball: After Nordonia's COVID pause, coach restarts where it all began

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Nordonia head coach Drew Hoisington fits bumps Caden Gopalakrishna after his 5th inning triple against Trinity on Saturday, April 10, 2021 in Garfield Heights, Ohio, at Danko Field.   [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

GARFIELD HEIGHTS — The opening week of the season had to feel like a celebration followed by a slap to the face for Nordonia baseball.

Less than 24 hours after the Knights won their season opener 10-8 March 30 vs. Painesville Riverside, a Nordonia player was diagnosed with COVID-19.

That forced the entire team into a 10-day quarantine.

"I was devastated for these guys," said Knights coach Drew Hoisington. "We were with each other for four solid hours, so we had to stop."

During the pause, Hoisington said the Knights went through a bit of "Baseball 101," trying to fine-tune the mental side of the game as much as possible without getting physical.

When the Knights returned to the diamond Saturday — sweeping a doubleheader from Trinitiy — Hoisington knew his team had a lot of catching up to do in a short time period.

Nordonia  right fielder Dominic Perrine can't get to a line shot by Trinitys Michael Clancy in the 5th inning on Saturday, April 10, 2021 in Garfield Heights, Ohio, at Danko Field.   [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

The Knights will play 11 games in a 10-day stretch.

"I told the guys, after a 10-day layoff, the next few days are going to be a grind," Hoisington said. "We had not seen any live pitching in 10 days. We told them we have to be mentally tough."

The good news for Hoisington was the grind started Saturday at a special place for him — Danko Field in Garfield Heights to take on Trinity in a doubleheader.

While he graduated from Walsh Jesuit and has coached Nordonia for nearly a decade, Hoisington's first head coaching job came in 2011 and 2012 with the Trojans.

He led Trinity to the 2011 North Coast League championship.

"[Former Trinity athletic director] Marty Hyland gave me a chance when I was just 24 years old," Hoisington said. "I had a good group of kids when I was here. It was a great experience for me."

Hoisington notes his coaching days are still having an impact on the Trojans: Trinity assistant coach Ryan McSweeny played under Hoisington.

"This place will always have a place in my heart," Hosington said. "I kind of fell in love with Nordonia, though. I plan to be here as long as they’ll let me."

Nordonia relieves pitcher Brad Buddenhagen throws a pitch in the 6th inning against Trinity on Saturday, April 10, 2021 in Garfield Heights, Ohio, at Danko Field.   [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

Trinity head coach Randy Rundgren said he knew the Knights would be a challenge.

"Even though they were coming off of a 10-day layup, we knew these were probably going to be our most challenging games of the season," Rundgren said. "They've got a bunch of athletes on that team.

"They're very well coached and I know Drew well," he added. "This used to be his house."

Game 1 Saturday was a scrappy affair. The Knights (3-0) took an early lead, fell behind and then rallied to a 7-6 win over the Trojans (3-4).

"These guys handled the layoff really well," Hoisington said. "You're never sure how the guys will react, but even in pregame, our infield practice was flawless. It took awhile for us to get going at the plate. You could see we were a bit slow early."

After a pair of scoreless innings, Nordonia busted out of the deadlock in a big way.

Junior right fielder Dominic Perrine smashed a solo home run over the left field fence to make it 1-0.

"He just put a great swing on it," Hoisington said.

Back-to-back RBI singles from catcher Louis Hover and third baseman Jonathan Mitchner gave the Knights a 3-0 lead before the Trojans came back with two runs in the bottom of the third.

Caden Gopalakrisha smacked an RBI triple in the top of the fifth, but the Trojans took the lead with a three-run bottom of the fifth.

Down 6-4, Nordonia fought back. Two walks and a bunt single from Andrew Lastovka were followed by an RBI fielder's choice by Daniel Hanson.

Left fielder Aidan Chilton tied the game with RBI single and Hanson scored the go-ahead run on an error.

Despite retiring only one batter, Adam Yuzwa (1-0) picked up the win in relief for the Knights. Senior Brad Buddenhagen struck out the side in the sixth and seventh for the save.

Game 2 proved to be a bigger test of the Knights mettle. Down 7-0 after four, Nordonia rallied for an 8-7 win.

Mitchner drove in the game-tying runs in the top of the seventh with a two-run double.

Hover then drove in the winning run when he put down a safety squeeze bunt, allowing  junior Ben Juriga to score.

Mitchner (2-0) also picked up the win in relief, as he pitched a scoreless seventh.