YORK TWP. — Brandyn Sittinger was point blank — Keystone didn’t come to play.
That was the senior’s take after the Wildcats weren’t able to get their bats going until the seventh inning of a disappointing 3-1 loss to Buckeye in Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division play.
In failing to figure out Bucks sophomore Eli Kraus (2-2), two-time division champion Keystone (8-6, 6-2 PAC) not only trails newcomer Firelands (11-6, 6-1) by a half-game in the standings, it allowed Buckeye (7-6, 5-2) to creep back into the hunt.
“It’s just one of those days,” Sittinger said. “We seemed like we were really lethargic. We didn’t come out strong to start it off.
“It just seemed like none of us wanted to play until the sixth inning. We were all dead.”
Sittinger did all he could on the mound with an outstanding 68 strikes on 90 pitches. The hard-throwing Marshall recruit went the distance, allowing just six hits and one earned run while striking out 10.
The problem was Kraus was even better.
The left-hander was dialed in from the start. Following a one-out, first-inning single by Tyler Young, Kraus didn’t allow a hit until the seventh, when the Wildcats pushed across their run.
Keystone’s rally came on a walk and seeing-eye singles by Kendall Stiner and Jake Twining. Second baseman Troy Piazza represented the go-ahead run with two outs, but Buckeye counterpart Shane Miller made a diving stop to throw out Piazza and end the game.
“A lot of them played JV last year and I pitched against them, so I knew what their hitters liked and didn’t like,” Kraus said. “I got it done, I guess.
“I knew how big of a game this was and had to put a little extra on it. I had to get a little nasty on my curveball and changeup especially. I threw a lot of those.”
Buckeye took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an RBI single by first baseman Tyler Nichols (2-for-3, 2 RBIs) that brought in Sam Kraus, who doubled on Sittinger’s first offering of the game. Sittinger settled in from there, allowing just an infield single to No. 9 hitter Ben Szustak until the bottom of the fifth inning.
That’s when the normally sound Wildcats defense fell apart.
Buckeye right fielder Griffin Hornyak began the inning with a double that short-hopped the right-center field fence. Sam Kraus reached on an error by shortstop and Toledo recruit Caleb Schillace to set up the sequence of the game.
With Hornyak on third, Kraus attempted a steal of second as Miller squared for a safety squeeze. The ball dribbled down the third base side and Sittinger’s hurried throw home, which was well in time to nab Hornyak, was wide right of catcher Pierce Young.
Five pitches later, Nichols poked his second hotshot RBI single to right and Buckeye held a 3-0 lead that, for all intents and purposes, was the dagger.
“This is a game we circled before the beginning of the year and it was one we wanted,” Nichols said. “We went out and got it today.”
Keystone showed grit with its last-ditch rally in front of the school’s top-ranked softball team, which was cheering on its classmates following a 17-0 pasting of Buckeye across campus, but that wasn’t even a consolation prize to Sittinger.
Suffice it say, Keystone won’t be coming out flat Saturday vs. Lorain during the Fritz Hazlett Memorial Invitational at Penfield Community Park.
“We’ve got to come strong from start to finish,” he said. “We can’t start at the end.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.