PENFIELD TWP. — A slow start to the Patriot Athletic Conference portion of its schedule has had Firelands a few steps behind Keystone and Buckeye all season. But if things keep going the way they have been, the Falcons just might catch them.
The Falcons won their seventh straight PAC game Thursday with a 5-3 victory over Keystone that negated an earlier loss to the Wildcats. The win moved the Falcons to 9-3 in the conference and dropped the Wildcats to 7-2. Both have games remaining against Buckeye, which is in first place in the Stars Division at 9-1.
The momentum is clearly in the Falcons’ corner.
“We had a rough start to the season but give credit to the guys for hanging in there,” Firelands coach Ted Busch said. “We dug ourselves a hole early on, but we’ve put ourselves right back into the conference race.
“We had four conference games this week and we wanted to go 4-0. We did that and now we have a race to the finish.”
Leading the way for the Falcons was Joe San Felippo. The senior, who had pitched about six innings before this season, went the distance to pick up his third win against one loss. His teammates gave him a two-run cushion in the first inning, and Brett Helton delivered the insurance runs with a two-run homer in the top of the seventh.
“I never claimed to be a pitcher, but Coach asked me to step in this year to do it,” said San Felippo, who struck out seven. “This was a big game for us, and give my teammates credit for putting the runs on the board, especially Brett.
“He’s been hitting the ball well lately and delivered again today.”
Firelands (11-10) got to Keystone starter Marcus Gunter right out of the gate. San Felippo worked Gunter for a walk and stole second before Helton drove him in with a single.
Firelands scored its second run on a Dylan Schramm two-out double that brought in Cole Sklarek. Gunter struck out Kevin Rollins to end the inning, but the damage was done and the tone was set.
Firelands was determined to grab the lead and let San Felippo take care of business on the mound.
“Joe’s a heck of an athlete,” Busch said. “We needed someone to step up and pitch for us this year and he’s done that. I don’t worry too much about pitch counts because he gets stronger as the game goes on.
“When he got in trouble, he was able to keep the damage to a minimum and get out of it.”
Firelands led 3-0 after picking up a run in the third inning, but Keystone started to solve San Felippo.
A leadoff single in the fourth by Korey Horne and a double by Collin Fitzgerald put runners on second and third with nobody out. But the Wildcats managed only a run on a sacrifice fly by Aaron Brodnik, as San Felippo retired three of the next four.
In the fifth inning, Keystone (14-8) loaded the bases with nobody out but came away with only a run on a sacrifice fly by Kendle Stiner. San Felippo struck out the next two batters to end the threat.
With Firelands leading 3-2, San Felippo opened the top of the seventh with a double and Helton brought him home with a towering shot to left field off of Brodnik. The homer put the Falcons up 5-2 and took some momentum away from Keystone.
“I knew it was gone the moment I rounded first base,” Helton said. “I was looking fastball and that’s exactly what he threw me. It felt really good when I hit it and I could tell that it was really out there.”
Keystone added a run in the bottom of the seventh but once again left two men on base to end the game. Overall, they stranded 11.
“We sure didn’t want to lose this one, but Firelands played a good game,” Keystone coach Bert Fitzgerald said. “We gave up a couple of runs early but we fought our way back into it. We just didn’t get a couple of clutch hits that we needed that could have driven in a few more runs.”
Contact Hans Schneider at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.