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ALLIANCE — On Saturday, the Giants' Kaidan Spade struck out 17 while the G-Men's Ryan Stoller pitched a complete-game shutout.
Sunday's All-Garrettsville Class F Alliance Regional championship was a different kind of ballgame. Both sides bashed the ball, with the G-Men prevailing, 26-8, against a Giants team that had taken two of their previous three meetings this summer. As a result, the G-Men are headed to their third straight Hot Stove final four.
"They're a very strong team, their coach is really great and we're all friends, too, which makes it a bittersweet win," G-Men coach John Demma said. "I like winning, but the joy of it wasn't quite what it would have been if we didn't know them."
Indeed, it was an oddly cordial affair. Tempers frequently flare under the hot sun of Hot Stove, but Sunday, the G-Men dugout could be heard complimenting a few of their Giants foes, particularly as the gap widened.
"It's great for Garrettsville," Giants coach Scott Eberly said. "It's just a great baseball organization coming through up to the high school. All the kids will be playing together. They're all friends on both teams. It's just a good feeling to know that Garrettsville baseball is going to be that much better."
With both teams using their aces Saturday, and with Sunday's hurlers forced to contend with a small strike zone, fireworks were to be expected.
"We knew coming in it was going to be a hit-fest," Eberly said.
The sheer extent of Sunday's offensive output was harder to predict.
Five Giants finished with multiple hits, including a 4-for-4 day for Spade and a 3-for-3 day for Ethan Cmunt. Spade bashed a hit right back toward the pitcher to start the third, while Cmunt followed a first-inning bloop single with a fourth-inning tomahawk shot to right and a fifth-inning liner to the opposite field. Carson Covey, Noah Eggert and Scott Hatfield tacked on a pair of hits apiece.
"That team is a big-time hitting team," Demma said. "They hit the snot out of the ball all year long."
The G-Men put up wild numbers of their own, with leadoff hitter Ryan Stoller scoring four times, two-hitter Aidan McDougall stealing four bases and scoring five runs and cleanup hitter Anthony Demma going 5-for-5 with four RBI. Whatever runners Demma wasn't able to clear off the bases, Lenny Veccia plated, finding the gap repeatedly for a single, two doubles and four RBI.
Coach John Demma said the G-Men had struggled a bit with their hitting in recent weeks, but any such difficulties were gone Sunday.
"From the top to the bottom, it was a thing of beauty," Demma said. "These kids just lit it up. They played with their hearts today, and that's where it all comes from."
The offense started early on a simmering summer afternoon at Alliance's Butler Rodman Park. Spade obliterated a high pitch, sending it over the retreating left fielder for an RBI double, the first of three first-inning runs for the Giants.
The G-Men responded with four in the bottom of the first, including a bases-loaded shot up the middle from Demma to cut the deficit to a single run. Veccia followed with an RBI groundout, and Jesse Grace golfed a sacrifice fly to center to give the G-Men a lead they would maintain for the rest of the afternoon.
On a day when seemingly everyone was bashing the ball around the ballpark, the question was: Who could make a big play on the defensive end?
One answer was G-Men hurler Brody Swigonski, who after yielding three runs in the first, stranded multiple baserunners in the second and made it through four gritty innings. He was helped by a stellar G-Men defense that was the difference Sunday afternoon.
With runners on first and second and one out in the top of the second, Cmunt hit a chopper to Stoller, who wisely threw to third to get the lead runner. Joseph Perrine followed with a tricky hopper past a diving Swigonski, but Stoller sprinted in to nab the grounder and fire a bullet to first for the inning-ending out.
That combination of gutsy pitching from Swigonski and superb fielding from Stoller gave the G-Men a chance to run away with the game and they seized it.
All nine hitters batted in a five-run, four-hit bottom of the second. With a runner on first and one out, Stoller somehow got to an eye-high pitch and lashed it into the outfield. McDougall plated two with a hard hopper to the hot corner, Veccia found the left-center gap for an 8-3 lead and Grace deftly flicked an outside pitch past the first baseman for a 9-3 advantage.
Meanwhile, the G-Men continued to make big defensive plays when it mattered most. After the Giants started the third with three straight singles, Swigonski pinned a 2-2 pitch on the low, outside corner for the first out of the inning, and Demma tossed a further dart through the Giants' sails, with the G-Men catcher sending a laser to the hot corner to capture the lead runner trying to steal third base.
"It all comes down to the basics a lot of times," John Demma said. "If you can make as few errors as possible and keep battling, at the end of the day, you'll hopefully wind up on top, or at least playing the best that you can. I always tell the kids that if they play the best they can and they left it all on the field, then they're winners."
Having escaped another troublesome inning, the G-Men ran away once more, drawing seven walks in the bottom of the third, while getting more superb play from Demma, who blasted a pitch down the left-field line to give the G-Men a 13-4 lead. He then came home, surprisingly quickly for a catcher, on a wild pitch to make the score 14-4.
While the G-Men got outs when they needed them, the Giants had a sloppy day in the field, including a couple of dropped pops and costly throwing errors. Any mistake they made, the speedy G-Men capitalized on, as they took every extra bag they could, including 13 stolen bases.
"We work real hard at being aggressive on the bases and we've got a bunch of kids that can run," Demma said. "I'm sure next week, we'll have two others that will do it, too, because we have a lot of good baserunners."
Even for Eberly, the Giants coach, it wasn't that bad of a day, as his son, Keaton, the third baseman for the G-Men, is headed to the final four. So, his dad, Scott, will be at Butler Rodman Park once more, this time as a fan.
"It's kind of a win-win both ways," Scott Eberly said. "I didn't really want to go against him, but in the end, one of us is going."
And it's also clear that James A. Garfield High School has a bright future, with any number of hard hitters and two bonafide aces coming up.
"When these guys get together in high school, it's going to be a beautiful thing," Demma said. "I hope they all stick with it and stay together as teammates and friends and community members. We're all together. Even though we were separate today on this ballfield, in our community, we stand strong."