HENRIETTA TWP. — The senior everybody in the Firelands baseball program calls “Bird” hit a blooper that had wings.
As a result, the Falcons’ dream of flying a Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division championship banner is still alive.
Brett Helton hit a two-run double against Kent State recruit Eli Kraus in the sixth inning and pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh Monday to lead the Falcons past Buckeye 7-6.
Firelands (12-10, 10-3) still trails the first-place Bucks (13-7, 9-2) and Keystone (15-6, 8-2), but would have been in major trouble with a loss. It has Helton to thank, as his Bermuda triangle lollipop gave the Falcons their first lead.
“It was quite exciting, as you could imagine,” Helton said with a smile.
Buckeye took a 6-4 advantage on a Nico Galizio RBI single in the fifth, but Helton got out of trouble with the bases juiced. The Falcons then chased Kyle Friel (4-3) in the sixth by scoring on an error by center fielder Jeff Susalla and getting two more runners on a Kevin Rollins single and a Jacob Abrahamowicz hit by pitch.
Bucks coach Steve Wright brought in Kraus, an electric left-hander who hadn’t allowed an earned run in PAC play. He struck out Justin Baumann and two-time All-Ohioan Joe San Felippo, but got behind 2-0 to Helton.
Kraus attempted to pump in a tailing fastball. The right-handed Helton swung and the ball went to right, seemingly hanging in the wind forever. It then landed between right fielder Nick Duliba, second baseman Robbie Nonamaker and first baseman Galizio less than 10 feet from the foul line.
“When I was up to bat, I was up 2-0 and was expecting a fastball, so the first one I seen was decent — it was a strike — so I swung after it and luckily it blooped down in there,” Helton said.
Kraus ended the inning by fanning Cole Sklarek, but the drama was far from over.
Buckeye promptly loaded the bases with one out in the seventh on San Felippo’s second error of the game, a single by pinch hitter Tyler Sovizral and a walk by Duliba. Helton then got ahead 0-2 to Susalla before throwing a low fastball.
Susalla hit a ground ball directly at the second base bag. Shortstop San Felippo cut it off and threw across his body to second baseman Sklarek, who needed a slick pick at first by Frank Johnson to complete the double play.
In an instant, Firelands was celebrating and Duliba was sitting on second base with his head down in shock.
“I was pretty nervous, but I trust my defense to make plays for me,” Helton said. “I just throw it over the plate for them.”
Buckeye roared to a 5-0 lead after 1½ innings on RBI singles from catcher Scott Cloudy, Susalla, left fielder Alex Green and Nonamaker and a two-run single from third baseman Joe Bruening.
The Falcons methodically rallied with a two-run double by San Felippo and an RBI single by Sklarek, who later scored when he successfully slid under Cloudy’s tag at the conclusion of a rundown.
For all of Firelands’ efforts, it couldn’t push across the go-ahead run against Friel.
But when it counted against the most prolific pitcher in the conference, Helton came through.
“This is pretty big,” he said. “We talked about it before the game. We were wondering if the big Kent State star was going to play and pitch us against us again because he threw a one-hitter against us the first time.
“He’s pretty good.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.