Duff Steve had a pretty good start to his senior season of high school baseball Monday afternoon.
Steve was the winning pitcher and went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and a run scored as the Cortland High baseball team beat visiting Homer 14-3 on Greg’s Field in the season-opener for the OHSL Freedom National Division teams.
The game was closer than the final score shows. In fact, the Trojans trailed 5-1 in the top of the fifth with two outs and a runner on third when Steve reached 95 pitches. Purple Tigers coach Ben Albright took him out with two strikes on Homer senior catcher Ben Gravel due to the state’s new pitch count rules, and senior right-hander Troy Vallese came on and delivered a curve ball for the strikeout on his first pitch.
“That was a huge pitch, a momentum changer right there,” Albright said. The hosts padded their lead with a run in the bottom of that inning, and after the Trojans pulled to within three runs, 6-3, in the top of the sixth CHS sent 13 men to the plate in the bottom of the frame and tacked on eight runs for the final margin.
“Duff is our horse, a senior and a great leader,” Albright said. “We expect big games from him and we were glad to see him step up in game one. This team has been in game mode for quite awhile and was able to stay focused and have great practices. They did a nice job of supporting each other, swinging the bat, running the bases and playing defense….all-around it was a great effort by everybody.”
“We’re better than that,” Homer coach Robert Nasiatka said. “We didn’t field the ball; we were out for our fifth time, but that’s no excuse. I thought (junior starter) Casey Hayes pitched outstanding, but didn’t get support at the plate or in the field. Cortland made the plays and we didn’t. But we’ll be a good team.”
“I had to locate my fastball, because with the new pitch count rule I had to hope for some contact to help keep the count low,” Steve said. “I got it where I wanted, and was glad to get this one. I always go in confident and just want to put this team in position to win.
“My teammates did a great job of getting on base and I was able to get them home. I know this team is capable of this every night and I’m looking forward to the season. Beating Homer like this in the opener will get our confidence way up. It definitely feels good.”
Steve allowed four hits and one unearned run in 4 2-3 innings with four strikeouts. Hayes also went 4 2-3 innings and gave up eight hits and six runs, five earned, with five strikeouts.
Cortland opened the scoring in the bottom of the first as senior catcher James Lane singled up the middle with one out and later scored on a bloop single to right by Steve. Sophomore shortstop Jake Prunier led off the third with a single to right and came home on a double to right-center by senior third baseman Alex Babcock, who slid home under the tag at home after a single to left by Steve seconds later.
Homer got on the board in the top of the fourth when junior first baseman Joe Tummino led off with a single to center and later scored on an infield error. The hosts scored twice in the bottom of that frame on an RBI double to left by junior second baseman Cameron Woodward and a RBI ground-rule single by Lane into a roped-off area of standing water in right field.
The Trojans collected three of their eight hits in the top of the sixth and scored twice on a throwing error by Lane on a pickoff attempt. The Purple Tigers then rapped out five of their 13 hits in the bottom of that inning en route to their eight-run outburst.
Lane (RBI, two runs) and Prunier (RBI, run) both went 2-for-4 for Cortland. Albright singled out senior Brandon Passalugo for stepping up to play right field when the lineup needed to be changed due to an illness. Tummino was 2-for-3 with a run scored for Homer.
The same two teams were set to meet today at 4:30 p.m. at Preble Park, the Trojans’ new home field. “We’ll be back tomorrow,” Nasiatka said. “It’s Cortland. We’ll battle.”
“Back-to-back is nice because you see who the better team is, who’s deeper,” Albright said. “That and the pitch count are going to wreak havoc with coaches’ minds this season.”