High school baseball: Highland tops Aurora in Suburban League American Conference battle

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Aurora second baseman Kurtis Miller waits under a pop fly during the Greenmen's 7-3 loss to Highland on Tuesday in Aurora. [Nick McLaughlin/For The Record Courier]

AURORA — Since its formation in 2015, the Suburban League American Conference has carved out a baseball legacy on the state and local levels.

Along with Tallmadge's state title in 2017, Highland reached the Division I state final four in 2018. Aurora reached the state final four just before the conference's formation in 2015.

So it's always an important game when the two green-and-black teams clash as they did Tuesday at Aurora.

Both coaches said they know exactly what they're up against and expressed admiration for the other program.

"I love playing against those guys," Aurora coach Michael Brancazio said. "Jay [Grissom] does a great job with them."

"I know Coach Brancazio always has his teams ready to play," Grissom said. "They can always hit the ball. We know we have to be ready to play a full game against them every time we come here."

After a quick start by the Greenmen, the Hornets rallied to take the first game of this year's showdown.

Highland’s Carter Oviatt follows through on a ball hit to right field during the Hornets' 7-3 win over Aurora on Tuesday. [Nick McLaughlin/For The Record Courier]

Six unanswered runs after the first inning allowed Highland to pull away with a 7-3 win.

The Hornets (8-2, 4-0) banged out 11 hits and feasted on the Aurora bullpen for five runs.

Grissom said he wants his team's approach at the plate to be simple.

"We actually tell them, and this is going to sound weird, to be ordinary at the plate," Grissom said. "Just look for fastballs and don't try to look for doubles."

Grissom said "ordinary" is the wrong adjective to describe the Oviatt brothers' start to the season.

Designated hitter Carter Oviatt went 3-for-4 with three singles, a walk and a run scored Tuesday, and first baseman Connor Oviatt went 2-for-4 with two singles, a run and an RBI.

"Those two, they have been on fire all year," Grissom said. "I'm not sure where they're at exactly, but Carter in particular is hitting well over .500."

Brancazio said Aurora (5-2, 2-1) didn't have a poor day at the plate, but was the victim of numerous loud outs.

Aurora senior Sean Fritinger pitches during a 7-3 loss to Highland on Tuesday [Nick McLaughlin/For The Record Courier]

"Of our 21 outs, 12 of them came on fly balls," Brancazio said. "We just needed to stay on top of the ball and put some pressure on them.

"Our offense has been great all year, but you can't expect to score seven, eight or nine runs every game. That's just not sustainable. I don't think we became pull happy today, but I think we were fly-ball happy."

He refused to use them as excuses, but Brancazio said injuries to ace Jack Fecko and slugger Mike Carpenter have forced the Greenmen to juggle their lineup.

"It has to be a 'next man up' mentality for us," Brancazio said. "Mike Carpenter is gone for a few more weeks and maybe the season. Sean Fritinger is our starting right fielder. He's being asked to pitch more than he ever has before."

Fritinger did a decent job on the mound, giving up an unearned run in the first inning and an RBI single to Quinn Marquis in the third. He left the game with the lead after four innings of work.

Aurora's offense was smoking out of the gate.

Behind 1-0 in the bottom of the first, Aurora got four consecutive singles from Ryan Weber, Mike Mylott, Anthony Horvath and Kepler Rhoden. Following Rhoden's RBI single, Ben Schechterman hit into a fielder's choice that plated Mylott and an error allowed Horvath to make it 3-1.

After the first inning, Highland starter Ethan Smith (3-0) shut down the Greenmen. He allowed a single to Rhoden in the fourth inning and a single to Schechterman in the fifth on his way to a complete-game win.

"My coach told me 'We'll come back,'" Smith said. "We've got a good hitting team. Sometimes I take a while to get going on a new field.

"I give a lot of credit to my defense, especially my outfielders who had the sun in their eyes all day."

It took some time, but Highland did come back.

The Hornets jumped on Aurora reliever Nate Fletcher for three runs in two innings.

A two-run single by Mitchell Good gave Highland a 4-3 lead in top of the fifth, and an error allowed Carter Oviatt to score in the sixth.

Highland plated two insurance runs in the top of the seventh off Aurora reliever Hunter Lane. An RBI single by Carter Oviatt and a sacrifice fly by Derek Evan scored the unearned runs.

Brancazio took the long view after his team's first conference loss.

"I know this is our seventh game, but we said we would take our first 10 to 12 games to figure out what we had and where we're going to line up," Brancazio said. "That process continues."