In the seventh inning, he was one bad

By Tom Hardesty Record-Courier sports writer Published:

In the seventh inning, he was one bad pitch away from watching a seemingly insurmountable 7-0 lead evaporate completely in the face of a furious Kent VFW rally.

As it turned out, Cravens and his Akron Goodyear Heights teammates managed to hold on, defeating Kent VFW 7-4 in the Hot Stove D League state championship game Monday at Butler-Rodman Park.

For a moment, though, it seemed that the impossible just might happen, that Kent VFW might actually rally from a 7-0 deficit with seven runs _ or more _ in the top of the seventh inning. And the fact that it might happen off a pitcher who had thrown a no-hitter through six innings made it seem all the more remarkable.

"As far as I'm concerned, our boys showed their character," said Kent VFW coach Joe Diestel, whose team dropped to 28-8 on the season. "They never quit. We had the tying run at the plate in the seventh inning."

Cravens, a former Mogadore and University of Akron standout, surrendered four hits and four runs in the seventh after not giving up a hit the entire game. But with two outs and runners on second and third, Cravens forced VFW's B.J. Smiley to ground out to second base to end the threat and secure the state championship.

"B.J.'s an excellent hitter," said Diestel, whose team played in its seventh state tournament in the last nine years. "I feel very comfortable with him at the plate in those types of situations."

VFW dug itself a huge hole early by falling behind 3-0 after the first inning, then giving up three more runs in the third. Down 6-0 and with Cravens in complete control, any type of VFW comeback seemed highly unlikely.

"He pitched a beautiful game, a gorgeous game," Diestel said of Cravens, who struck out eight and walked five. "That's probably the best game I've seen someone pitch against us in the last two years. We scored 63 runs in our first six tournament games, so that shows you he pitched a great game."

Goodyear Heights struck quickly with its three-run uprising in the bottom of the first.

Back-to-back walks to James Chance and Merton Martin set the table, then Chance came home with the game's first run thanks to an error on a Cravens grounder. Tim Taylor's bloop single to right field scored Martin, and Bryan Prentice's fielder's choice plated Cravens for a 3-0 lead.

Goodyear Heights was at it again in the third.

Cravens led off by doubling off the fence in deep center, then moved to third on a wild pitch. Prentice followed by doubling to right center, scoring Cravens for a 4-0 lead and chasing VFW starter and loser Geoff Diestel.

Mark Squire came on in relief and immediately struck out Jason McHood for the second out of the inning, but Goodyear Heights wasn't finished. A balk scored Prentice, who had moved to third on a wild pitch, and Mark Nash's single to left plated David Josef for a 6-0 cushion.

The lead grew to 7-0 in the fifth when Dan Woodson's single to center scored McHood.

Entering the seventh, Cravens had been so dominant that no VFW baserunner had reached third base. In fact, VFW had yet to fashion anything resembling a rally: on the three occasions they managed to advance a baserunner to second, there were already two outs.

But all that changed quickly in the seventh.

Brad Gornik spoiled Cravens' no-hit bid by leading off the seventh with a solid single to left. Mike Haney followed with his own single to left, then Squire's fielder's choice forced Haney at second and moved Gornik to third.

Still, with runners at the corners, one out and a seven-run margin, there seemed little cause for alarm.

But that alarm went off loud and clear one batter later, when leadoff man Sam Crea smashed a towering home run over the right field fence to make it 7-3.

Cravens regained temporary control of the situation when he got Bill Lewis to fly out to right for the second out, but Geoff Diestel kept the rally alive with a single to left. Chris Kiec then reached on an error, moving Diestel to third.

Joel Beard followed by also reaching on an error, moving Kiec to second and scoring Diestel to trim the gap to 7-4. A wild pitch advanced the runners a base, before Cravens ended matters by inducing Smiley to ground out.

"I don't like losing and my boys don't like losing," said coach Diestel, whose team is 273-91 in the last 10 years. "But when you see a pitcher pitch a game like that, all you can do is smile and say, 'Hey, that's how the game is supposed to be played.' He just pitched a beautiful game."

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