Nordonia's early offense paves way past Aurora in sectional final
AURORA — Thursday was going to be a momentous day for Aurora baseball's seniors regardless of the outcome of their game.
The Greenmen's Division I sectional final against Nordonia was moved up several hours to accommodate Aurora's Class of 2021 graduation ceremony, which was set to happen Thursday evening at Memorial Stadium.
Thus, the Greenmen had a simple goal: Make sure the seniors' caps and gowns wouldn't be the final time they wore Aurora green.
Unfortunately for Aurora, it was the other team in green and black whose bats exploded early.
Nordonia put up eight runs in the first inning, led 11-2 after three innings and weathered a late comeback attempt to hold on for a 12-8 win.
"We've been working the past two to three weeks on being short to the ball," Nordonia coach Drew Hoisington said. "We continue to play well, but earlier in the season we weren't getting a lot of runs. It's proving that were getting it right at the right time."
Aurora coach Mike Brancazio said his team showed plenty of fight, but dug itself too deep of a hole.
"We've been coming back from behind all year," he said. "Down 11-2, teams in the past would have quit on us, but we never did. We just ran out of outs today. It's disappointing. I'm disappointed for our seniors."
The Knights (10-16) advanced to face Dover Tuesday in a Division I district semifinal at Euclid.
With temperatures in the mid-80s at Aurora, both coaches said they were prepared for a slugfest. Nordonia center fielder Daniel Hanson echoed Hoisington's assessment that the Knights lineup was hitting its stride.
"We just came together as a team and concentrated on it," Hanson said. "The last four games, it's been paying off. Our whole thing today was to sit on the fastball and adjust if we got something else.
Building off a 12-2 win over Brush Tuesday in their tournament opener, Hanson and Knights hit the ground running against Aurora.
A lead-off single by Hanson was one of seven hits in the first inning alone for Nordonia, which sent 13 batters to the plate.
An RBI single by Jordan Newhouse, a two-run single by Caden Gopolakrishna, two-run doubles by Jonathan Mitchner and Hanson and an RBI double by Aidan Chilton gave Nordonia its 8-0 lead in the middle of the first inning.
Aurora starting pitcher Mark Luke lasted just two-thirds of an inning.
For that point on, Brancazio's motto to his team was "chip away."
Aurora (14-8) got an RBI single from Mike Carpenter in the first inning, and a sacrifice fly by Chase Gerbrink cut the deficit to 8-2 after two.
However, Nordonia came back with three runs in the third inning. Hanson scored on a wild pitch, followed by RBI singles by Jared Zender and Ricky McLeod that made it 11-2.
Hanson led the Knights, going 2-of-3 with two runs scored, three RBI and a sacrifice bunt.
Benefiting from all that run support, Knights senior Adam Yuzwa got the win, allowing four runs on eight hit in four innings.
"When you've got a team like [Aurora], there's going to be loud outs and they had a lot of them," Hoisington said. "When we looked at them, we knew we had to keep them off-balance. Adam does a great job throwing three pitches for strikes."
Did Hoisington feel secure with that nine-run lead?
"Up 11-2, we knew it wasn't over," he said.
He was right, as Aurora scored one run in the fourth inning and two in the fifth.
The Greenmen made things interesting in the sixth, when an RBI double by Carpenter and a two-run single by Adam Horvarth narrowed the margin to 11-8.
In his final game as a Greenman, Horvath led Aurora by going 4-of-4 with a double, two RBI and a run scored.
Needing to break the momentum, Nordonia got an insurance run in the seventh. Rocco Covelli put down a perfect bunt single and came around to score on an error to make it 12-8.
Aurora still had life in the bottom of the seventh when Anthony Dolata singled and Gerbrink walked to start. However, Nordonia reliever Hunter Grams got a fielder's choice and two fly outs to pick up the save.
"To have a sophomore like Hunter go in there facing some of their best batters, that just shows the level of talent in this program," Hoisington said.
Brancazio said goodbye to his seven seniors, who he said have been through a trying two seasons.
"Like I told them, they've spent more time with us since February than they have with their own families," Brancazio said. "It's been an enjoyable experience. We weren't perfect this year. We had lineup changes, we had injuries, we had a lot to deal with and they just kept getting better."