High school baseball: Conference rivalry ending for Cuyahoga Falls and Hudson

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Cuyahoga Falls second  baseman Ryan McDonald tags out Hudson's Wyatt Prado in front of shortstop Alex Eggleton during the Black Tigers' 4-1 loss at Hudson Tuesday.

CUYAHOGA FALLS — For decades, Cuyahoga Falls and Hudson high school athletics have been inseparable.

The two neighbors came together in the Western Reserve Conference in the 1990s and, along with Stow-Munroe Falls, moved into the Northeast Ohio Conference for a decade before landing the Suburban League National Conference in 2015.

However, the days of this conference rivalry are numbered.

In fact, Falls will be done with the National Conference by the end of May, as the Black Tigers will compete in the Suburban League's American Conference starting in the 2021-22 school year.

Having faced Hudson as league rivals during their respective playing days at Cuyahoga Falls, athletic director Kenny Johnson and head baseball coach Brian Shannon each acknowledge next season is going to feel weird.

"It's definitely going to be different," Johnson said. "There were times when baseball between these two was a great rivalry, back in the 90s and early 2000s. We'd like to keep the rivalry going, even if it's not in the league."

"You're going back to the Metro League days when we first started playing each other," Shannon said. "We've definitely created a rivalry with them. We've played really good games against them throughout the years."

Is Shannon wishing he could keep the Black Tigers in the National Conference?

"I play the games on my schedule," he replied.

Hudson's Sam Scharville celebrates a triple with Explorers head coach Buddy Dice during Hudson's 4-1 home win over Cuyahoga Falls Tuesday.

Hudson coach Buddy Dice echoed Shannon's sentiments about the rivalry, noting he had established friendships with Shannon and his predecessors.

"You look at the history between these two programs, there is a lot of great baseball there," Dice said. "With them moving to the other conference, I hope that we're still able to play.

"It's my opinion that [Falls] record doesn't reflect what kind of team they are," Dice added. "This is not a bad team. I don't want to be the one whose there when they break through with a win."

Johnson notes the biggest reason for the move is to give Falls a fighting chance to compete.

"The main reason is competitive balance," Johnson said. "That's not to say that there isn't quality in the American Conference. A lot of it had to do with football.

"We're hoping to establish some new rivalries in the American Conference," he added. "We think we can start one with Kent [Roosevelt] and we think that a Falls-Tallmadge rivalry has a lot of potential."

When looking at wins and losses, Falls baseball could be an example of why Johnson feels the Black Tigers should move. Falls will finish its tenure in the National Conference having never had a winning conference record in baseball.

That said, both Shannon and Johnson note the American Conference is no pushover in baseball.

While the Black Tigers will be getting away from the likes of Hudson, Twinsburg and Wadsworth, local powers like Aurora, Tallmadge and Medina Highland await in American Conference play.

"In different sports, the American Conference can be just as strong as the National," Johnson said.

"There's no cakewalk on that side of the league," Shannon said. "We're going to still have to be ready every day."

In this week marked the end of league play between the Explorers and Black Tigers, the squads played a two-game series worthy of the rivalry.

On Tuesday at The Ballpark at Hudson, the Explorers scored a 4-1 win.

The lone run for the Black Tigers came courtesy of an RBI double from Teddy Nime in the third inning. Dylan Grochowski also had a multi-hit game (2-for-3).

Cuyahoga Falls struggled to bring runners home against Hudson pitcher Jack Florig, leaving five men on base in the game.

The two squads met again Wednesday at Water Works Park, moving up their scheduled game a day.

After both pitching staffs got off to rocky starts, both squads settled in, but Hudson was able to pull out a 3-2 win.

Thanks to the three walks, three stolen bases and a bunt single by right fielder Carter Buzzelli, Hudson took a 2-0 lead on Falls starter Joey Medkeff in the top of the first inning.

Hudson also got a third run in the top of the second, thanks to an RBI single from Buzzelli.

"Two runs on a bunt single and three free passes … we'll take it," Dice said. "[Medkeff] came in with some control issues early. I give him credit for throwing strikes and making us earn it after that."

Indeed, Medkeff (0-3) got stronger as the game went on, allowing just three Hudson hits and pitching a complete game, setting down the final 13 Explorers he faced in order.

"He pitched well enough for us to win," Shannon said. "That's all you can ask."

Falls was able to tie the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the first. A lead-off single from Nick Deckert was followed by an RBI double from Teddy Nime to the fence in left.

Nime then scored after Tyler Harris drew a bases-loaded walk, which chased Hudson starting pitcher Lincoln Nye from the game.

However, Hudson reliever Charlie Draper (3-1) dominated over 6.2 innings. The right-handed sidearm pitcher allowed just one Falls hit and striking out seven. He retired the last 10 Black Tigers he faced.

"He came in a tough spot and did a great job for us," Dice said.

"He got a funny arm angle. It's a game of adjustments, though," Shannon said. "Leaving guys on base is something that we have done all year."

Reporter Ashley Bastock contributed to this report.