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St. Clairsville Drops State Opener

Photo by Kim North St. Clairsville’s Jaren Starks slides into home plate safely, despite the catcher’s mask being in the way, during the fourth inning Tuesday at Beavers Field in the opening round of the Ohio American Legion state baseball tournament in Lancaster. Post 159 dropped a 9-7 decision to Conneaut Post 151 and plays today at 9 a.m. against Sidney Post 217 in the loser’s bracket.

By KIM NORTH

For The Intelligencer

LANCASTER — If St. Clairsville Post 159 is to win the state American Legion baseball championship, it’s going to have to take the same path as it did to claim the Region 8 title.

Despite scoring five times in its first at-bat Tuesday, St. Clairsville dropped a 9-7 decision to Conneaut Post 151 in its opener on the artificial surface at Beavers Field. It also fell in the Region 8 first round before reeling off five consecutive win-or-go-home victories.

“We had our chances,” St. Clairsville manager Mike Muklewicz said. “We were down by a run in the fifth with two runners on and only one out, but we had a timely miscue on the bases that could’ve extended the inning, but here at this level everyone is as good or better than us on a daily basis.

“You just can’t make the little mistakes like that because they can turn into big mistakes in big games,” he added. “That’s what happened on that play.”

The play in question came in the top of the fifth after Dakota Hess beat out an infield single and Jaren Starks bunted for a base hit. However, Braylen Blomquist’s liner to right was caught and the runner on first was doubled off to end the inning.

Post 159 (20-8) has no time fret over the setback as it is back in action at 9 a.m. today

“They (Conneaut) swing the bat really, really well,” Muklewicz noted. “I think Tyler (Tonkovich) kept us in the game but I tried to change it up a little because they are such great hitters. I tried to go with something softer and off-speed to maybe get them to pop it up or pound it into the ground, but they continued to get the hits.”

Another factor in the loss was not being able to keep the Post 151 (19-4) leadoff batters off the basepaths. Only once in six innings — the fifth — did Conneaut fail to get its first hitter aboard. That, by no coincidence, was the only inning it did not score.

“Leadoff runners hurt you a high percentage of the time,” Muklewicz said. Three of the leadoff hitters drew walks, which will drive a manager crazy.

St. Clairsville seemed to feed off its success in the Region 8 Tournament as it put up a five-spot in the top of the first. Blomquist reached on an infield single leading off and Chase Goff’s shot to short was too hot to handle. Tonkovich legged out a bunt to load the bases before Mason Myers and Drew Sefsick drew back-to-back walks to force in two runs. With one out, Will Balgo singled back up the middle as Tonkovich and Myers raced home. Hess followed with a double to left that plated Sefsick with the fifth tally.

“We came out on fire at the plate but then we cooled off for some reason,” Muklewicz pointed out. “I’m not sure why?”

Post 151 scored single runs in the first three innings to slowly chip away at the deficit. After Starks scored on a throwing error in the fourth to make it 6-3, Conneaut crossed the plate four times in the bottom of the inning to take its first lead at 7-6.

Goff tripled to right-center leading off the six and came in on a single to left by Tonkovich. With one out, Sefsick singled and Tonkovich went to third. A caught stealing and a groundout snuffed out that rally.

Bobby Melt knocked in the eventual game-winning run with a one-out double to deep left in the sixth and Seger Gordon walked with the bases full for an insurance marker.

Balgo singled to left leading off the St. Clairsville seventh. Hess was safe on an error as Balgo stopped at second. However, a strikeout, liner to center and fly to center ended the game.

Post 159 collected 13 base hits as Blomquist, Tonkovich, Balgo, Hess and Starks all had two hits each.

Today’s opponent, Sidney, dropped a 10-2 decision to Harrison in the fourth game Tuesday.

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