High School baseball: Cuyahoga Falls baseball honors teachers after trying year

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Cuyahoga Falls’ Tyler Harris snaps a pop-up during a game earlier thi season.
Nordonia's Caden Gopalakrishna comes down after a high throw earlier this season.

CUYAHOGA FALLS — It's no secret that the pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but teachers have been some of the ones most affected professions over the last year.

Having to deal with trying to work with students digitally while dealing with constant changes from local and state officials regarding COVID-19 has been par of the course since March 2020.

While Falls baseball coach Brian Shannon isn't a teacher — he works for Thompson Electric during the day — he understands the trials they've been through. Shannon notes his wife Kaitlyn works at Preston Elementary.

"I give my upmost respect to everyone who works in education," Shannon said. "Every combination of things they've had to deal will. Most of my family has worked in education."

Now imagine that, along with all your academic considerations, you've got to handle scheduling a team, working on a field, setting up practice schedules, dealing with cancellations and motivating young athletes.

By the way, you have to do all this not knowing if a week, a month or an entire season may be lost to COVID and such decisions may take place at any time.

Sound insane? Welcome to being at teacher and a high school coach.

"I don't know how they do it," Shannon said. "Having to deal with everything that you do as a teacher and also work with a team. It's not for the week at heart."

Thus, Nordonia coach Drew Hoisington can't be called weak at heart, as he continues as a history teacher at NHS along with his coaching duties.

However, Hoisington notes he feels the students have been through a lot as well.

"It shows a lot that people have been able to try to work through this," Hosington said. "You've seen so many different things happen, but we've found a way to get stuff done. The kids have been very grateful. You're happy that we're coming to end of all this."

Falls athletic director Kenny Johnson joked that he couldn't put into words how trying the last year had been without using expletives.

"It's been hard, especially with this only being the second year on the job," Johnson said. "I think that our coaches have been phenomenal dealing with all the changes we've had."

Johnson said it was appropriate to call teachers and coaches "Superhuman" for everything they have dealt with.

All this made Teacher Appreciation Day Thursday at Water Works Park more poignant. Each Black Tiger varsity baseball player invited a teacher to join them for recognition before Falls' game with Nordonia.

As the afternoon went on, however, tempers between the two squads, in part because first pitch was delayed an hour due to the late arrival of the umpires.

Falls looked to be on the brink of its first win in the Suburban League National Conference until a late home run and running play allowed the Knights to pull out a 5-4 win.

Senior Ricky McLeod was the hero for the Knights. Not only did he pick up the win in relief (1-0), but he belted a three-run homer in the sixth inning to tie the game.

"We've been looking for a spark all year and Ricky McLeod really gave it to us," Hosington said. "Not only did he come into a tough situation and only give up one run — that was on a passed ball — but he that homer after not having that many at bats this year."

It was another tough loss to swallow for Falls ace Brady Semick (1-5), as he allowed four earned run in 5.1 innings of work.

"He pitches a whale of a game once again," Shannon said.

Nordonia took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning off a wild pitch and had base runners in every inning.

"We came out playing pretty well," Hoisington said. "In the third inning, we feel apart. We couldn't throw, we couldn't catch, we couldn't do anything."

Indeed, a walk and three straight errors allowed Falls to tie the game at 1-1. Designated hitter Ryan McDonald then smack a two-run single to make it 3-1 after three innings.

Nordonia starting pitcher Dom Perrine recorded 11 of his 12 outs via strikeout, but three straight walks to open the fourth inning compelled Hoisington to life him with McLeod. After a passed ball allow Falls to make it 4-1, McLeod struck out the side.

Nordonia had several long outs in the game, but with two on the bottom of the sixth, McLeod belted a three-run jack over the left-field fence.

"The kid hit a good pitch," Shannon said. "Hats off to him."

With the game tied at 4-4 in the seventh, Hoisington called a play used often by his mentor Chris Kaczmar.

Designated hitter Jordan Newhouse hit a one-out single and Hoisington sent in pinch runner Andrew Lastovka. Lastovka stole second and went to third before Caden Gopalakrisha walked.

Gopalakrishna then got himself caught in a run down and Lastovka broke for home, scoring the go-ahead run as Falls could not make the play at the plate.

"With a 2-0 count and two good base runners, I wanted to give it a try," Hoisington said. "It was almost another good play on their part, because if they hold onto the ball, he's probably out."

Falls' Teddy Nime led off the bottom the seventh with a double to right, but a beautiful relay throw had him thrown out a third.

"We challenged them to make a play and they made two perfect throws," Shannon said.

Falls had another chance after a hit batsman and a walk, but McLeod got a fly out to right and a ground out to end the game.