AVON — It’s hard to imagine one play making a big difference in a 10-run mercy rule ballgame, but that’s what happened in the District 3 Little League U11 baseball championship game at Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday night.
Avon came away with a 14-4 win over Cuyahoga Falls North to advance to next week’s double-elimination state tournament at North Canton.
Getting there wasn’t as easy as it looked.
The first four Cuyahoga Falls’ batters reached base to start the game on a walk, an error and two sharply hit singles to load the bases with one run already across.
Nick Tartalglia stepped in and lined a shot to shortstop Matt South who fired to third to catch Bradley Goodyear for a double play. South then caught a pop fly to end the inning.
Avon erupted for four runs in its half of the inning and were never threatened from that point.
“That double play really helped us,” said Avon pitcher Zach Maxey. “I had a little first-inning jitters. After that, we got the lead and we just took it from there.”
“The boys came out a little bit nervous,” Avon manager Michael Love said. “I was a little bit surprised about that. Cuyahoga Falls North is a good team and they jumped on us hard. The double play was a momentum turner. It absolutely was. It got us back on our game and thinking baseball instead of what was happening on the negative.
“Matt is our best glove man and he’s got good instincts. We spent a lot of time the past three weeks getting these guys ready.”
“He made a great play,” Cuyahoga Falls manager Mark Haas said. “He’s had a great series against us. He pitched well against us (Friday). They hit the ball and we just didn’t have an answer.”
After weathering the top of the first, Avon took control when Charlie Ellis and Jack Walsh had back-to-back doubles in the four-run first and Ryan Jones hit a two-run, inside-the-park homer in the three-run second. Avon added four more runs in the third with Ellis contributing a two-run single.
“After I got the first hit, I was more patient and aggressive,” said Jones, who had three of Avon’s 12 hits including his first All-Star homer. “(Cuyahoga Falls) pitching was really good. They’re a great team.”
Avon’s hitters contributed throughout the lineup. Seven batters had hits, six drove in runs and eight scored at least one run. Jones had three hits, while Ellis, Walsh and Maxey had two each.
“We’re very fortunate,” Love said. “We can put nine good sticks in our batting order. It’s an easy lineup to put out there.”
Avon had to crawl back through the losers bracket after Cuyahoga Falls won the first game in a nine-inning marathon last week.
“These boys were in the 10-year-old finals last year and we lost to Tallmadge,” Love said. “We beat Tallmadge two games ago (Wednesday) and beat these guys (Cuyahoga Falls on Friday) to set up the tiebreaker.
“Of the 13 guys (on the roster), I think nine of them were from that team so this is pretty exciting. They like this option better.”