Independence earns split with Kirtland

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Independence 4, Kirtland 1

KIRTLAND—An 8-2 loss at home to Kirtland on Monday left Independence in a must-win situation on the road against the Hornets on Wednesday to keep pace in the race for the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division title.

Kyle Stefanski delivered a complete game, nine strikeout performance to lead the Blue Devils to a 4-1 win at Recreation Park.

“This was a situation where we had to win today,” said Independence coach Mark Echstenkamper. “The conditions were very bad but we preach to the guys not to complain or make excuses and we didn’t. We played errorless baseball on a very bad field. Kyle threw an incredible game. He was just pounding the zone and he made them hit the ball.”

Stefanski also recorded two of Independence’s three hits and knocked in a run.

He reached on a fielder’s choice in the first inning and advanced to second on a throwing error. He moved to third on a passed ball and scored on a groundout to give the Blue Devils a 1-0 lead.

Kirtland’s Joey Torok hit a one-out triple in the top of the third and scored on Jack Dever’s double to tie the game at 1-1.

Stefanski then retired 15 of the next 17 Kirtland batters he faced.

“He was throwing mainly fastballs because he couldn’t feel the ball or get a grip on his curve,” Echstenkamper said.

Independence added a run in the fifth when Michael Valenti led off with a single and moved to second on Nick Mroczynski’s sacrifice bunt. Valenti scored on a Stefanski single.

The Blue Devils added two insurance runs in the seventh.

Mroczynski walked, stole second and moved to third on Stefanski’s bunt single. Mroczynski scored on a throwing error and Stefanski made it 4-1 when he came home on a wild pitch.

“You’ve got to do that kind of stuff,” Echstenkamper said of moving runners with sacrifice bunts. “We joke around that we’re kind of like the (Cleveland) Indians. We’re not hitting and they’re not hitting, so we’ve got to find a way to score runs and we did that. We played a complete game. Defensively, on very bad field conditions, we played well and scraped across a couple of runs when he had to.”

Kirtland managed five hits off Stefanski but the Hornets weren’t able to string the hits together to score runs.

“Stefanski came out and did his job,” said Kirtland coach Luke Smrdel. “He did a great job getting ahead of our batters and he worked ahead of our hitters the whole game. He’s tough to hit so it was really hard for us to get anything going.”

Tyler Bratton took the loss for the Hornets but he was just as effective as Stefanski was for the Blue Devils. He allowed one earned run on two hits and struck out eight in six innings of work.

Mike Alfieri pitched the seventh for the Hornets.

“It wasn’t a shootout by any means,” Smrdel said. “Tyler pitched great too. It was a good pitcher’s duel. The weather didn’t help our game plan, which is usually we run a lot. We didn’t have that opportunity today but that was a very good team we lost to.”

The Blue Devils improved to 2-6 overall and 1-1 in the CVC after a rough, but competitive, spring trip to Myrtle Beach.

“This was a really big game for us,” Echstenkamper said. “Kirtland is one of the top teams with them. We split with them and now it’s wide open.”

The Hornets dropped to 3-4, 2-1.

Independence travels to Cuyahoga Heights on Thursday while Kirtland will try to earn a season sweep against Hawken.

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The creator and publisher of OhioVarsity.com, Hare has covered high school sports in Northeast Ohio since 1997. He began as a correspondent for the Lake County News Herald, where he contributed until 2011, primarily covering high school football and wrestling. In 1999, Hare began writing for IrishIllustrated.com, a member of the Scout.com network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. OhioVarsity.com was created in 2004 and was a member of the Rivals.com network until 2012. The site's original purpose was to cover Ohio high school football and recruiting news but since has grown to cover all sports and to provide sports information services to high school athletic programs and individual teams. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.