Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
The North Olmsted Eagles have been involved in a number of close games so far in 2013. So when they found themselves trailing visiting Westlake 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh inning they were in familiar territory.
“We’ve been on the field against some pretty good teams so far this season,” said North Olmsted head coach Tim Murphy. “In our five losses, we’ve been either tied or had the lead in the middle of the game.
“I don’t think we’re ever out of a game,” he added.
The persistence of Murphy’s Eagles paid off against the Demons. They rallied not once, but twice in the late innings Monday afternoon to claim a 2-1 Southwestern Conference win in nine innings at Victory Park.
North Olmsted moved to 6-5 on the season and evened their SWC slate at 2-2. Westlake dropped to 1-3 in the conference and 4-3 overall.
Because of the weather, it was the first game for both teams since early last week. As a result, neither team could muster much offense. Adding to that was the pitching of starters Matt Leonard of Westlake and North Olmsted’s Jacob Servidio.
Through the first six innings, the only run came in the top of the fifth when Andrew Kettel singled, went to second on Corbin Dunlap’s sacrifice bunt and scored on a Leonard single. Leonard made the lead stand and was relieved by Evan Davis in the seventh inning.
“In the seventh, we had one out and a runner on second with our two best hitters coming up,” Murphy said. “Brad Novak came through twice for us today, and Brandon Fatsie knocked him in there in the seventh.
“Then in the ninth, we got around to that part of the order again and they came through,” he added.
With one out in the seventh, Novak worked the count to 2-2 before grounding a single through the hole between third and short. He stole second on a 0-1 pitch to Fatsie, then scored on the second baseman’s RBI single to left center.
Davis got the last two outs to keep the score tied, then cruised through a 1-2-3 eighth. Servidio allowed one walk and struck out a pair in the top of the eighth to keep the Demons off the board. In the top of the ninth, Novak took the hill. The Eagle lefty set the Demons down 1-2-3 to keep the game tied.
“Leonard pitched a nice game,” Murphy said. “He was over the plate and beating us with fastballs. We had some bad at-bats in key situations, but you’ve got to give credit to him. Jake was kind of rough early on, but he settled in and was actually better later in the game.
“But he was up around 120 pitches, and I couldn’t let him finish. I brought Brad in, and he did a nice job. He was loose and ready,” he added.
In the bottom of the ninth, Davis retired the first two Eagles on a ground out and a fly out. But Novak stepped up and laced a 2-2 pitch to the wall in left center. Fatsie was issued an intentional walk, then catcher Jon Nola coaxed a walk to load the bases.
Third baseman Joe Keleman stepped in the box and worked the count full. Davis’ next pitch missed low, and Novak came home with the game winner.
“I tell the guys every year that in the SWC, you’ve got to bring it every game,” said Westlake head coach Brandan Zepp.
“With the wind blowing in, I knew it was going to be tough scoring runs today,” Zepp said. “Matt pitched his butt off. In the sixth inning, he was out of gas. He willed himself through because he’s a competitor. He’s pitching like an ace right now. He’s given up two runs in two starts so far.
“It’s tough luck today, but we’re going to learn from it. We’re 4-3, and we’ve lost a couple of close games. We’re waiting for the bats to come around. I know we’re going to hit. Defensively, I thought we played well. We pitched well, giving up just two runs.
“If you told me before the game we would only give up two runs in nine innings, I’d be happy,” he added.
As noted, North Olmsted has had its share of close encounters so far in 2013. Murphy likes the way his team - which has only 11 players on the roster - stacks up with the competition.
“This was similar to the game we had with Brecksville,” Murphy said. “We came up about a half dollar short against them. We had a lead, then they tied it up and won 3-2. If Amherst and Brecksville are the two best teams in the league, we’ve slugged it out with both of them so far.
“Amherst is very good, and it’s always tough with Westlake. They’ve got a lot of momentum coming off what they accomplished last year,” he added.
Zepp felt better days were ahead for his crew.
“That’s the way baseball is sometimes,” Zepp said. “You win some, you lose some. They’re a tough team. Murph coaches them up really well. I knew this was going to be a tough one, and we today came out on the wrong end.
“It hurts not being able to be outside, but we’re all in the same boat here in Northeast Ohio. It’s not like we’re the only team that’s not able to hit outside. A week off kind of throws the timing off, but it was the same thing for them.
“We’ve got to swing at better pitchers. We’re in hitter’s counts and we’re not swinging at good pitches. But we’ll learn from it,” he added.