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Comets survive two playoff thrillers
Comets survive two playoff thrillers
By TONY LANGE
The Solon Comets edged Cuyahoga Falls, 4-3, and Brecksville-Broadview Heights, 5-4, in the first two games of the Division I Hudson District baseball playoffs last week.
Those are the types of games that Solon is going to play in the postseason, head coach Damien Kopkas said. They will be low-scoring, close, one-run, back-and-forth types of games, he said.
"We battled in those games," he said. "The hitters worked counts, got counts in their favor, were able to put balls in play and make the defense work. Our pitchers continued to battle, especially in that Brecksville game. Our pitchers, when needed to, threw strikes with confidence, trusted their defense, and, in both of those games, we played very solid defense."
In April, the Comets lost 10-3 and 5-4 to Cuyahoga Falls on back-to-back days. During their postseason matchup, it was a different story. The game was scoreless after three innings, with the Black Tigers striking first in the top of the fourth inning as they scored three runs.
Being down 3-0, there was no panic, Kopkas said. The Comets had been in that situation before. There was nothing he as a coach needed to say at that point to motivate his players, he said. They were focused on the task at hand.
"It was something that we've been down a few times this year and crawled back, and we knew that, in a postseason situation, we just had to stay the course, chip away, try to get some of those runs back that inning and just continue to play the type of Solon baseball that we know we can," Kopkas said. "So, if we sit down and panic and said, 'Uh-oh, we're down three, this could be the end of the season,' I think it would have been very difficult to come back."
The Comets chipped away with two runs in the bottom of the fourth and added two more in the sixth for the victory.
Junior Dan Sutyak pitched the win with a complete game for the Comets. Junior Ryan Schwenke led the offense with a single, two doubles and two RBI. He drove in the tying run in the bottom of the sixth, followed by Kevin Cegelka's sacrifice fly for the eventual game-winning RBI.
Being a junior this year and a sophomore on varsity last year, Schwenke is looked at to be a leader on the field and plays multiple positions, Kopkas said.
"I asked a lot of him," Kopkas said. "He is willing to do anything he can for his team. Willing to sacrifice himself, maybe playing out of his normal position or sacrifice his at-bat so somebody else can get the glory or whatever the case may be. It's like having an assistant coach out there. He has stepped up from the beginning and has really filled his role well."
During the Brecksville game, the Comets knew it would be a challenge and that the Bees were going to fight for every pitch, every at-bat, Kopkas said.
The Comets fell behind, 2-1, after the first inning, gained a 3-2 lead after the third inning and then scored runs in the top of the fourth and the top of the seventh to take a 5-2 advantage heading into the final three outs.
During the bottom of the seventh, the Comets got a little wild and put some runners on base, Kopkas said. With one out and the bases loaded, the Comets went to a second reliever in the inning who walked in a run and then gave up a single to allow the Bees to cut the lead to 5-4.
While that was going on, the Brecksville sideline was going crazy and rightfully so, Kopkas said.
"As it turned out, it was a nail-biter at the end," he said. "Our defense didn't bat an eye. We continued to focus on the task at hand and never showed panic and ended up buckling down and striking out the last two batters to preserve the victory."
Junior pitcher Matt Smoral picked up the win for the Comets, who gave up four hits in seven innings. On offense, the Comets got six hits and were led by junior Michael Dunn, who was two-for-four hitting with two singles, a run, an RBI and a stolen base.
Dunn is somebody who has progressed though the season and moved from not being in the lineup, to the bottom of the lineup, to the top of the lineup, Kopkas said.
"He has just continued to get better and better and put good at-bats together, and he ended up getting to our three spot in the order," Kopkas said. He just focused on putting solid contact on the ball and putting good at-bats together. Certainly, he had a great ballgame."
Pitching wise, Kopkas said he plans to stick with Sutyak and Smoral throughout the postseason unless the Comets see a matchup advantage with another pitcher.
"Those two have been my No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers all year long," Kopkas said. "They've been lights out for me since the beginning."
After the Brecksville triumph, the Comets improved to 10-12 and advanced to play Hudson in the district semifinals on May 17.
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