CLEVELAND — Progressive Field has tamed many a baseball team during its time on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
Not Elyria Catholic.
Playing for the second year in a row in the Cleveland Indians Hardball Classic, the Panthers once again rose to the occasion in another easy win. On Sunday, it came at the expense of Highland in an impressive 12-2 win at the 11th annual event.
That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as the Panthers (7-3) have outscored their opponents 22-2 in the two appearances they’ve made at the park. They beat Berea 10-0 last year.
“The kids have played on some nice fields before like All Pro Freight Stadium,” Elyria Catholic coach Bruce Lisicky said. “We were here last year and we’ve been at Oberlin College. I think the novelty of the real nice place has settled in on them. For some reason they’re relaxed.”
The novelty of kicking in the tails of their opponents certainly hasn’t worn off, as the Hornets (2-3) played from behind most of the afternoon.
And although Highland was able to briefly tie things in the second, the momentum of the day really started when Noah Bland (two triples, three RBIs, two runs) ripped a triple to dead center field in the first to get things going. It scored Angelo Cruz and set the tone for the Panthers.
“It got us going,” Bland said. “Once you get going, you keep adding on and adding on. It meant everything.”
The hit parade reached a fevered pitch in the third when Elyria Catholic put up nine runs. Already ahead two after a two-run single in the second by Cruz, the Panthers poured it on.
It came at the expense of Garrett Mennenga, who only registered one out. By the time his line was closed, he gave up seven runs — four earned — five hits and a walk.
Elyria Catholic sent 13 batters to the plate in the inning and beat up Hornets pitchers for eight hits.
“You see it in baseball all the time at every level,” Highland coach Jay Grissom said. “It’s a contagious thing. Already this season we’ve had two innings of six runs or more.
“That one guy bloops one in, maybe there’s an error, and all of a sudden it’s a revolving door. It can be very tough to stop because everyone in that box is expecting to hit in the gap somewhere.”
The outburst by the Panthers paid dividends for Norbert Velez, who picked up his first win of the season.
Afforded the luxury of playing with a huge lead, the right-hander gave up one earned run in four innings on just two hits. The senior walked five and struck out three.
“When I get a lot of runs, it’s not hard,” Velez said. “You just have to focus on doing your thing and not get mad. That’s what I did out there. You just take a deep breath on the mound and start hitting the strike zone.”
The win also came with memories that will last a lifetime, as playing in the home of a major league team had many of the players wide-eyed as they thought of some of the greats that have played there.
“The feeling of playing in an MLB stadium is amazing,” Velez said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You have to treasure it because not many get this chance. It was amazing.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.