TALLMADGE — For the second time this week, the Mount Vernon 12-year-old All-Stars met a team worthy of their competition at the 2009 Ohio State Little League Tournament. And, unfortunately, they came out on the wrong end of the score for a second time.
Facing off against the North Canton All-Stars in the state semifinal, Mount Vernon played another strong game, but North Canton’s was stronger. First baseman Tony Iero slammed two grand slams and reliever Daniel Piero held off any Mount Vernon rally to win, 10-8. The win sends North Canton into the championship game against Hamilton West Side tonight, a rematch of Wednesday’s winner’s bracket final, which Hamilton won, 12-7.
“We really challenged our players last night after the Hamilton loss, and we ended up having a great practice to get ready for this game,” said North Canton manager Dan DiGiambattista. “We carried that momentum into this game. We pulled it out.”
For the defending state champions, the bitter end was hard to swallow despite a strong tournament run.
“This is tough, but we’re all right. We’ll live,” said Mount Vernon manager Phil Arck. “Sure we are disappointed, but they are a great team. I’m happy for them. We just threw the wrong pitch at the wrong time.”
North Canton struck first, scoring a single run in the top of the first inning off Mount Vernon starter Tyler Galbraith. Leadoff hitter Danny DiGiambattista hit a 1-1 pitch over the left-center field fence to put a run on the scoreboard. North Canton continued to threaten after Anthony Moeglin hit a one-out double and Iero was hit by a pitch. Galbraith struck the next batter out and notched the third out on a ground ball to escape the threat.
Mount Vernon responded quickly in the bottom of the inning. Ryan Fitzgerald hit a one-out single before North Canton starter Tristan Ross walked Alex Arck and Griffen Menke. Galbraith hit into a fielder’s choice, which Fitzgerald scored on ahead of the throw. Arck and Menke each scored on wild pitches before Jarred Pryor greeted Piero, who came on in relief with a 3-0 count, with an RBI groundout to make it a 4-1 ballgame.
“He just didn’t have it today, so we decided to pull him,” manager DiGiambattista said of Ross. “At this point, you have to win or go home, and we wanted to win. … (Piero) threw great. We haven’t really shown him much this tournament. He is usually our closer; he went above and beyond our expectations.”
The Mount Vernon bats didn’t scare off North Canton, which responded in a big way in the top of the second. A hit batter and a walk started the inning, but a fielder’s choice erased the lead runner before another walk loaded the bases. Another fielder’s choice erased the lead runner at home plate, and it looked like Galbraith may get out of the inning unscathed, but Moeglin hit an RBI single to tighten up the game and keep the inning alive. At that point, Iero stepped up and hit a grand slam to give North Canton a 6-4 lead.
“Right off the bat, we got the 4-1 lead, but it stayed tight,” said manager Arck. “Then they hit the home run to take the lead from us, and at that point we knew we were in for a battle. I tried not to make a pitching change, but they were a tough team. They just kept coming. We knew this would be a tough team.”
Orr and Fitzgerald singled with one out in the bottom of the second to put runners on, and both moved up on a wild pitch. Arck then drove in Orr with a sacrifice fly to trim the lead.
Mount Vernon added another run in the top off the third to tie the score at 6. Galbraith singled, moved to third on back-to-back groundouts and came home on an RBI single by Greg Dennis as Mount Vernon made it a game again.
“It was still anyone’s game,” said manager DiGiambattista. “Mount Vernon is a good team and they battled back. They don’t roll over for anyone. It is a classy organization, classy coaching, and they are a great team.”
North Canton quickly took the lead back off Mount Vernon reliever Tyler Hedrick, who came on to pitch in the third. Hedrick went 1-2-3 in the third after Galbraith gave up leadoff hit batsman, but North Canton took advantage of some struggles in the fourth. DiGiambattista walked to lead off, and an error allowed Ross to reach. Moeglin then walked to load the bases and bring up Iero. For the second time in the game, Iero defied the odds and blasted a grand slam to put his team back on top, 10-6.
“I know he only scored two of their runs, but (Iero) accounted for eight runs,” said manager Arck. “That’s pretty phenomenal. He is a great player.”
Hedrick finished off the inning in order, and Arck shut North Canton down in the fifth and sixth innings, but the damage was done.
Mount Vernon trimmed the lead once again in the bottom of the fourth. Orr smacked a leadoff home run, and Fitzgerald hit his third single of the day. He later scored off a combination of passed balls and a fielder’s choice to make it a 10-8 game.
“I think we are about even. It was 100 percent effort on both sides,” manager DiGiambattista said. “Mount Vernon should be proud of how these young men played.”
Despite coming up short, manager Arck knows his team achieved much. They made a strong showing and played quality baseball along the way.
“We got what we wanted, even though we got down,” said manager Arck. “We held them in that fifth inning; they were still up two, obviously, but we thought we could get three. I just didn’t fall our way tonight. That’s OK. We’ve got a great bunch of kids that battled to the end.
“We didn’t go as far as we wanted to, but every where we go, people commented on how we hit the ball. We are usually a very good hitting team, and I think we did a great job getting as far as we did. We ran into some pretty good teams and we hung in there with them.”
Hamilton West Side and North Canton square off at Mac Burleson Field in Tallmadge tonight at 6. Should North Canton win, a second championship game would be played on Saturday at 2 p.m. The winner advances to the Great Lakes Regional in Indianapolis, Ind., beginning play on Aug. 6.