Is the Stow-Falls rivalry ending? Not if the schools have their way
CUYAHOGA FALLS — Believe it or not, Cuyahoga Falls' tenure in the Suburban League National Conference ends this week.
Barring any weather-based make-up games, the Black Tigers' final event in the National Conference is set to be the league track meet.
After that, Falls will prepare for life in the Suburban League American Conference this fall.
That means the Black Tigers are moving out of conference from their oldest and closest rival: Stow-Munroe Falls.
Even Falls athletic director Kenny Johnson admits it will be "strange" not having the Bulldogs as a conference rival.
"I look at it going from being Ohio State and Michigan to Celtics and Lakers," Johnson said. "We're not going to be in conference anymore, but we will still play each other."
Johnson noted the two schools are intertwined as much any two schools in Summit County.
"It's a big rivalry because a lot of the kids are friends and grew up playing with each other," he said. "From my own experience, Falls didn't have a youth basketball program during my time, so I played Stow youth basketball. There's a lot of kids that have similar experiences."
Johnson said one of his coaches during his time at Falls was current Stow athletic director Cyle Feldman. Thus, when Johnson brought up the subject of Falls moving to the American Conference, the conversation got "emotional."
"I wasn't in favor of it," Feldman said. "The only way I would be in favor of it would be if we still played them in every sport."
Once Johnson made the commitment, Feldman agreed to support the move at a league meeting.
"Stow was the deciding vote," Johnson said. "They let us go."
On the baseball diamond, the rivalry will continue almost unaffected by the move. Falls coach Brian Shannon and Stow coach Aaron DeBord agreed the two squads will play a home-and-home series every year — as they do now in conference play.
"Aaron and I have been pretty close over the last few years," Shannon said. "He and I both said we wanted to keep this going."
"It's a rivalry that means a lot to people," DeBord said. "I went to Woodridge, but grew up in Falls, and when you're a Falls guys, you want to beat Stow. Now I'm a Stow guy and a want to beat Falls. Brian and I both hope to be here for a long time."
When the two squads met for Falls' Senior Night Tuesday at Water Works Park, the two teams made a point to honor Bill Longhitano before the game. Longhitano had spent decades coaching in the Falls and Stow communities before passing away last November.
"Bill did a lot for both communities," DeBord. "I miss him and I'm glad we remembered him today."
Falls honored seniors Dylan Grochowski, Brady Semick, Teddy Nime, Joey Medkeff, Gavin Hawley and Ryan McDonald before the game.
As for the game itself, Shannon noted it was a microcosm of Falls' season. The Black Tigers had numerous chances to take the lead, but Stow (10-10, 6-6) fended them off and ran away late with an 11-3 win.
Stow ace Connor McCartey (6-1) gave up 10 hits and three runs in six innings, but he was able to work out of multiple jams.
"Connor is a pitch-to-contact pitcher. He throws a lot of ground balls and [Falls] hit a lot of ground balls where we weren't," DeBord said. "That's baseball. He made big pitches when he needed to."
Falls (2-19, 0-12) had base runners in every inning but the first. Medkeff (1-5) lasted only three innings, giving up four earned runs.
"We've been that close in every game this season," Shannon said. "It's baseball. You trust your process, you practice hard and you try to execute in games."
Up 1-0 in the third inning, Stow took a 4-0 lead on a three-run home by Caleb Shorter.
"Caleb has been squaring the ball up like that the last three years," DeBord said. "I'm glad he's starting to find green."
Falls came right back in the third. An RBI groundout by Hawley was followed by RBI singles by McDonald and right fielder Tyler Harris to make it 4-3.
The game turned on weird play in the top of the fifth.
On a wild pitch by reliever Lakota Zrelak, Stow catcher Riley Cesnak scored and was then hit by Hawley's attempt to throw him out. The loose ball allowed pinch runner Zach Huff to break for home.
Huff slid home safe, catching Zrelak with a spike, which forced Zrelak out of the game.
Stow put the game out of the reach with four runs in the seventh.
Back-to-back doubles by Nick Sackett and Jake Holmes were followed by Connor Dunlap's RBI single. After a hit batsman, third baseman Pat Ciccantelli completed the scoring with a two-out, two-run single.