Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by Larry Bennet
Marty Hartsel probably remembered the game like it happened yesterday.
It was a 2012 Division I sectional title game, and Hartsel took the mound with his Lakewood Rangers up 6-0 at Westlake. Two innings and nine runs later, Hartsel was out of the game and the Rangers were on their way out of the tournament in a 10-6 defeat.
Friday night, Hartsel again took the mound to face the Demons. The results were as different as night and day.
The Ranger righty hurled a masterpiece, blanking the visitors on just three hits to lead Lakewood to a 7-0 win at Lakewood Stadium. The win raised the Rangers’ record to 17-4 heading into Sunday’s Division I tournament seed meeting and upped Hartsel’s record to 3-0.
“I felt confident in my abilities today,” said Hartsel, who struck out five and didn’t allow a walk in his complete-game performance.
“I feel I’ve grown a lot as a pitcher this past year,” Hartsel said. “And I know I’ll always have my team behind me backing me up 100 percent. So all I have to do is go out there, do my job and trust my stuff and let my defense take care of the rest.
“Today I went out and threw what I normally threw. It just turned out to be a good day,” he added.
Hartsel admitted last year’s outing still burned in the back of his mind.
“Personally, I think this was one of the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done as a pitcher,” he said. “Last year, I had to stomach the fact that I gave up the game to them, and then they went down to the state tournament and we didn’t...because of me.
“I feel that today I overcame that adversity. And people now know I won’t lay down without a fight, and neither will our team,” he added.
“We talked to him during the week about it,” said Rangers head coach Mike Ribar. “We told him it was his game, and you could see his face light up.
“You saw him...there was no question he was ready to pitch, from the first pitch through the last. He never lost composure, he never flinched. He just kept throwing strikes. He had his curveball working, mastery of his slider and his fastball,” Ribar said.
Hartsel allowed a one-out single to Danny Strodtbeck in the first, but a nifty 6-4-3 double play erased that threat. In the second, a diving catch in right field by Dan Zagaria kept the defense ckicking. A single just inside the bag at third by Justin Runevitch would be the last Demon hit until Strodtbeck’s leadoff single in the top of the seventh.
“That kid pitched his tail off, said Westlake head coach Brendan Zepp of Hartsel’s performance. “He had his off-speed pitches working, then he’d sneak that fastball in there.
“They’re a good team. We knew we were going to see that. They played well, and we couldn’t get that big hit. We couldn’t get a spark all night. It’s been that way all season. We had that one good game against St. Edward where we really hit the ball well. But other than that, it’s been a struggle, especially this week with runners in scoring position.
“We’ve been playing solid defense the past three or four games, and our pitchers are pitching their butts off. We’ve got a few guys who are injured right now, but our pitching didn’t hurt us. They just got the timely hits today, and we just couldn’t hit them.
“Plain and simple...we didn’t hit,” he added.
The Rangers, on the other hand, managed to do just that at the right times.
In the bottom of the first, Lakewood got all the runs it would need against Westlake starter Evan Davis.
Shortstop Eric Roder led off the inning with a single to center field. He moved to second on a Chase Miller sacrifice, stole third and came home on a Demon throwing error. An RBI double to left center off the bat of Max Lavisky brought home Wayne Naida, who had walked.
Lakewood added a single run with two outs in the third when Naida tripled to the wall in left center and came home on a wild pitch. The Rangers then put the game away in the fourth when they sent eight batters to the plate.
Dylan Bruening singled to right, and Marquis Tyus coaxed a walk with one out. That brought Zepp to the mound for the pitching change as Matt DuPerow took the hill for the Demons.
Roder hacked a 2-1 pitch into the turf, and the high chopper to the left side resulted in an infield hit to load the bases. Miller took DuPerow’s first offering and sent it to left for a 2-run single to make the score 5-0, Rangers. After a groundout, Lavisky singled to center for two more Ranger runs.
Hartsel came out in the top of the fifth and retired the Demons 1-2-3 for the second straight inning. He did so again in the sixth, striking out the side.
“I told the guys in the locker room before the game ‘hey, let’s go out and play this one relaxed,’” said Ribar, whose team split a doubleheader with Bay and lost a tough decision to Rocky River earlier in the week to fall into second place in the West Shore Conference race.
“Every game now in the conference is a must-win game because now we’re one game back. So you’re playing with that little bit of extra pressure on you. We wanted to just go out and enjoy this one. We had a lot of people here, we finally had some nice weather, the whole deal.
“I think our guys played phenomenal, and Hartsel was lights out,” he added.