Back-to-back champs

By KIM NORTH

Times Leader Sports Writer

MAYNARD – Back-to-back couldn’t be any sweeter.

Those were the thoughts of veteran Maynard manager Laney Simone Sr. Tuesday night after his team rallied past Weirton, 3-2, in Game 4 of the Steele and Cook Insurance Ohio Valley Baseball League’s championship series before a huge turnout at the Community Park Firemen’s Field diamond in Belmont County. With the come-from-behind victory, Maynard captured the best-of-5 format 3-1.

“I’ve been sick (to my stomach) for two days, so, this feels really good … really good,” Simone said just after being doused with a Gatorade cooler of ice water. “And to come from behind tonight was really big. It showed the heart that this team has.”

Deadlocked at two in the bottom of the sixth, the fourth-seeded defending champions put together some two-out lightning in staging the winning rally. Logan Hudson coaxed a walk from tough-luck loser Logan Linder and red-hot Cory Kotopka drilled a shot to right-center – similar to a drive two innings earlier that was grabbed by the Red Dons centerfielder Greg Ashmead – that split Ashmead and rightfielder Tori Fuscardo for a triple as Hudson chugged around the bases with the eventual game- and series-clinching tally.

“I was looking for something kind of down the middle of the plate and a little high,” Kotopka said of his game-winner. “I ended up getting it and sending it to right-center. I was hoping it wouldn’t be caught, because the first one would have given us a run, as well.”

With the precarious one-run lead, finally, veteran righthander Mark Cisar, who surrendered two first-inning runs on 25 pitches, sealed the deal in the seventh, but not before Weirton put the tying run on first with one out.

“Give them credit,” Simone praised the opponent. “Being down 2-0 early in the series, and then to come back like they did in the next two games, my hats off to them. What a team to battle like they did. They made this series very interesting.”

The third-seeded Red Dons (20-10) didn’t waste any time in jumping ahead as they touched Cisar for four hits in the first inning while scoring twice. Three of those hits came on 0-2 pitches.

Ashmead singled leading off the game and Nagy drilled a single through the right side of the infield that got Ashmead to third with one out. Seth Fluharty’s single to left plated Ashmead and Nagy scored when Linder banged a double off the base of the fence in left-center.

“I threw too many strikes. I hate to say that, but honest to goodness … too many strikes,” the former Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox minor-leaguer explained. “One was an 0-2 shot off the fence. Another was a 1-2 pitch. Not getting the ball in the dirt. Not hitting my spots on the plate, but they hit the ball and put it in play.”

However, after that the 39-year-old was in total control. He retired 18 of the final 22 batters he faced, with three of those reaching on errors. He yielded a leadoff single to Nagy in the third before setting down 13 consecutive Red Dons. Tori Fuscardo reached on error with one out in the top of the seventh, but Cisar struck out Chris Perna and Ashmead lifted a fly ball to left that Kotopka, appropriately, circled under for the final out of the season.

“Cory really came through for us,” Simone said. “He hit two shots tonight. The first one I thought was going to get through, but the second one was really better.

“I couldn’t be any more prouder of my guys,” Simone said while holding back his emotions. “These guys did a really nice job all season. I can’t say enough.”

Down 2-0 and being no-hit through 4 innings, former St. Clairsville three-sport standout Ryan Jarvie sent an 0-1 offering from Linder well over the fence – and County Road 10 – in left-center to slice the deficit in half.

“That hit by Jarvie put the sail back on the boat,” Simone explained. “We were really in a slump there, but he broke us out of it.”

Maynard drew even in the fifth as D.J. Busby lined a one-out single to left. Cisar followed with a laser to center that skipped off Ashmead’s chest as Busby sped to third. After Cisar stole second, B.A. Holloway, who was mirred in a series-long slump, sent a weak grounder to short that allowed Busby to race home with the tying run, setting the stage for Kotopka’s heroics, which earned him co-MVP of the championship series along with Cisar.

“They both deserved it,” Simone said of his two standouts.

During the four-game set, Cisar won a pair of games on the mound, striking out 11, walking one and giving up 11 hits. He also hit .385 with three singles, a double, home run and four ribbies. He scored two runs, walked twice and swiped a pair of bases.

“I’m 39 years old and this never gets old,” Cisar said with a huge smile. “Both of these (championships) feel stinking awesome. I absolutely love this stuff. I’m not going to lie to you.

“This is the greatest game on earth and you play it until you can’t play it any more.”

Kotopka hit .a sizzling .571 with two singles, a double and triple. He knocked in three runs and scored a like number. He also walked once and laid down a sacrifice bunt.

Nagy, Weirton’s player/manager, had two of the Red Dons seven hits, and was proud of his team in defeat.

“The first two games (of the series) we played terrible. They (Maynard) played better than us and deserved to win,” he said. “We still only scored two runs, and we’ve got to score more than that to beat a team like this.

“This team is very resilient,” Nagy added. “Hopefully, we can get a lot of them to come back next year.”

GAME NOTES

— The attendance was a little more than 300, with fans lined up all around the sun-splashed facility.

— Umpiring the contest were Tad Stephens (home plate) and Danny Butts (bases).

— Web gems went to: No. 1-Maynard third baseman Holloway for his diving stop at third of a smash by Sammy Orr leading off the seventh; No. 2-Second baseman Orr with a sliding snag of a shot by Cody Hudson with two outs and the bases loaded in the second; and No. 3-Cisar for his leaping stab of a chopper off the bat of Fluharty in the sixth.

Maynard 3, Weirton 2

Weirton 200 000 0 – 2 7 2

Maynard 000 111 x – 3 5 2

W-Linder lp (3SO, 2W) and Fluharty; Nagy 2S; Fluharty S, rbi; Linder D, rbi

M-Cisar wp (4SO, 0W) and Androsko; Holloway rbi; Jarvie HR, rbi; Kotopka T, rbi

North can be reached at knorth@timesleader-online.com