TALLMADGE — Not having the home-field advantage didn’t stop Avon’s offense from picking up right where it left off against Tallmadge.
This time, it was more than enough for a win.
The 12U Little League team cranked out five home runs and Connor Malicki was near-perfect on the mound in blanking Tallmadge 14-0 to clinch the District 3 championship Thursday evening.
Avon advances to the state tournament, which begins Saturday in Maumee. It’s scheduled to face defending state champion Canfield in its opener, tentatively set for 1 p.m.
“Everybody hit hard,” Avon coach Dave Cupar said. “Everybody prepared tonight. They were aggressive and hungry to win tonight. I like the fact that today it all came together. Our pitching, our defense was excellent. That’s an underrated part of our game. And then, of course, our bats came alive.
Avon hit eight home runs in the last two games — both against Tallmadge.
On Wednesday in Avon, Tallmadge hit four long balls and forced the elimination game. But Tallmadge’s hot bats were cooled Thursday, as Malicki only allowed two hits in four innings of lockdown work — striking out three.
He was relieved in the fifth by Thomas Niedherst, who allowed the game’s only walk but bounced back to retire the side. The two combined to face just 18 batters in five innings, with the only hits coming from leadoff man Nick Cuva.
“It felt good,” Malicki said. “My curveball was working and I felt like I was locating my pitches very well. It feels amazing to win, it’s a dream come true and I can’t wait to go to state.”
The only easy inning for Tallmadge was the first, when Elijah Pownall retired the side. Tallmadge’s only real scoring opportunity also came in the first, when Cuva worked the opening at-bat into a liner over short. He reached second on a wild pitch and moved to third on Elijah Pownall’s fielder’s choice.
Malicki put an end to the threat with his first strikeout.
In the second, a throwing error led to Ethan Holbrook reaching second, and two batters later a lazy throw back to the mound allowed him to advance to third. Sean Wilson made Tallmadge pay on the next pitch with a shot over second base for the first run.
Then Avon rolled out the big guns, scoring the next seven runs on four home runs, the first a shot by Davis Ocepik into right. In the third, Patrick Martin drove in two on of a towering shot that reached the softball field. Avon added two more long balls, with Brenton Dill and Max Summers going opposite field to cap the five-run third.
Summers finished with two home runs and three RBIs, Ocepik added a double to his total and Malicki put Avon over the top with a crushing three-run homer in the fifth.
“I thought that I popped it up when I hit it but then it went out,” Ocepik said of his home run.