CLEVELAND — Brad Hamilton has grown up around the Cleveland Indians and Progressive Field. His dad, Tom, is the longtime play-by-play voice of the team.
But anytime the Avon Lake senior catcher and Kent State baseball commit gets to play a meaningful game at the home of the Tribe, he relishes the chance.
Hamilton went 2-for-3 with a double, a run and four of the Shoremen’s five RBIs, leading Avon Lake to a 7-5 win over St. Ignatius on Friday in the first game of the Cleveland Indians Charities Hardball Classic.
Avon Lake improved to 4-2; St. Ignatius fell to 5-1.
“It was really cool and it was a dream come true,” Hamilton said of playing at Progressive Field. “Just getting to be here and getting to play where all the major leaguers play is just a neat experience.
“The guys had great at-bats in front of me. If they don’t get on base, I don’t get the opportunity. They were able to put together great at-bats and I was fortunate enough to come up after them.”
The Wildcats beat the Shoremen 9-1 in last year’s Hardball Classic before eliminating them 3-2 in a Division I regional semifinal. St. Ignatius wound up as the state runner-up.
“We’re no stranger to Ignatius,” Avon Lake coach Kevin Marlow said. “We know the caliber of team that they are. Getting out to a big lead is certainly the best-case scenario, and we took it.”
Hamilton said he and his teammates thought about last year, but that it wasn’t a motivating factor.
“You always want to go out there and win,” he said. “We’ve played great games against Ignatius, and they’re a great team. They’re one of the best teams in the state. So playing against that type of caliber of a team, you always want to play your best game. We had a good approach and we tried to treat it like any other game.
“That regional semifinal stung, and I’m not gonna lie, it’s nice to beat them. But they’re just a great team and a class act.”
Avon Lake set the tone with a five-run first inning and added two in the second, chasing St. Ignatius’ top two pitchers in Bennett Kinzel (1-1) and Dylan Smolen.
Jace Russell led off the game with a single to left, followed by back-to-back walks to load the bases for Hamilton, who drove the second pitch into left for a two-run single.
Kyle Kuhar was hit by a pitch, and Payton Perry followed with a sacrifice fly to left, scoring David Winkel to make it 3-0.
Matt Gottshall followed with a comebacker to the mound for the second out and Kuhar was caught too far off second base. In the ensuing rundown, Hamilton broke for home plate. Ignatius shortstop Quillan Austria threw wildly, way over catcher Pat Gulick’s head. Hamilton and Kuhar were able to score without a play at the plate.
In the second, Enzo Forlini drew a leadoff walk off Smolen, and Russell — 2-for-3 with two runs — singled to right. Two batters later and with the bases loaded, Hamilton delivered again, driving the first pitch into the power alley in left-center for a two-run double.
“He started off a little slow in our first week, but I don’t know if you can find a hotter hitter in Northeast Ohio baseball than Brad Hamilton right now,” Marlow said. “He’s hitting everything real hard and everything’s on the nose. He hit a home run (Thursday) against Amherst that’s probably still going.
“He’s a fabulous talent and a hard worker, and we’re really happy for him.”
The Wildcats, who used a different pitcher every inning, shut down Avon Lake following Hamilton’s double. The Shoremen were held to one hit over the remaining 4⅔ innings, a single by Forlini.
Meanwhile, St. Ignatius began to come back. A wild pitch in the fourth inning by reliever Logan Montague (1-0) got the Wildcats on the board. Going with pinch hitters in the sixth, they put together a four-run inning off of Logan Cherni that suddenly cut the deficit to two with two outs.
But sophomore James O’Connor — a late addition to the varsity roster for the game — relieved with a runner on second and retired the final four hitters for his first varsity save.
“They had me warming up throughout the whole game, so I was ready,” said O’Connor, making his second varsity appearance of the season. “I was confident in what I would do. It was really cool to play in this huge stadium. We had a nice crowd here. It was awesome. I’ve never experienced something like this in my life.”
Marlow was pleased with O’Connor’s outing.
“We had some injuries so we brought him up, and we weren’t sure if we were going to use him today or not,” he said. “I’m glad we brought him. He’s real talented and he didn’t give up anything. We certainly like that.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.