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    Kirtland tops Wickliffe for first season-opening win since 2017

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    KIRTLAND—Gino Blasini struck out 10 and Kirtland pounded out 11 hits in a 7-2 season-opening win over visiting Wickliffe on Monday.

    With the win, the Hornets won an opening-day game for the first time since 2017.

    “We always want to start 1-0 but haven’t been the greatest at it,” said Kirtland coach Luke Smrdel of Kirtland’s opening day woes. “This year, opening up with a conference game helped. This was a must-win game, and our guys knew that. I have come to realize, that even though the boys don’t say it, a lot of them are nervous heading into the first game. We had a team meeting about 20 minutes before the game and talked about (the nerves). It helped our guys feel a little more comfortable as the game started.”

    Timely hits in the first and third innings, mixed with Blasini’s dominant performance on the mound, were Kirtland’s recipe for success.

    “It was great to get out here and win today,” Smrdel said. “It gives us momentum in the conference, and hopefully we keep winning. We just have to keep a game-by-game approach.”

    The first set of Kirtland’s electrifying run-scoring hits came in the bottom of the first when Kirtland brilliantly plated three runners.

    Trip Thaler drew a leadoff walk and Will Bates followed up with a hit-by-pitch to put a pair of runners on for Tyler Turk, who loaded the bases with his infield hit.

    Lucci Cantini opened the scoring with a two-run single to left, giving the Hornets their first timely hit of the evening.

    Blasini worked a walk to load the bases for the second time in the inning, setting up a Carter Luzar RBI single to run Kirtland’s’ lead to 3-0.

    Wickliffe starter Frankie Bucar recorded back-to-back strikeouts and coaxed a flyout to end the Hornet rally.

    The Blue Devils scratched across a run in the top of the second that cut Kirtland’s lead to 3-1.

    Liam Widemire led off the inning with a double and scored on Brandon Henderson’s RBI double.

    Blasini racked up a pair of strikeouts in the inning that minimized Wickliffe’s damage.

    Dylan Allen singled and Widemire drew a one-out walk in the Wickliffe third but again, Blasini pitched out of the jam.

    The Hornets found more timely hits that led to four runs in the bottom of the third.

    Blasini worked another walk and Jack Turk moved him to third with his one-out single to center. Paul then doubled home Blasini for a 4-1 Kirtland lead.

    With two runners on, two outs, and two strikes on him, Thaler roped a base hit down the third base line in a gut-puncher of a two-run double that extended Kirtland’s lead to 6-1.

    Bates then drew a walk and Turk reached on an error that scored Thaler to close out the Kirtland scoring.

    The third-inning performance, and more specifically Thaler’s two-run double, was the knock-out blow Kirtland needed.

    “We talk about situational hitting all the time. Making that (hit) happen is important,” Smrdel said. “Trip’s a senior who’s done this for three years now. He’s got a great approach at the plate. He knew what he was doing, hit it right down the line, and got us two runs.”

    After two scoreless innings, Wickliffe scored a run in the top of the sixth when Logan Ruscin hit a leadoff double and Widemire followed with a two-bag RBI hit.

    Blasini struck out the next two batters and Henderson popped out to the pitcher, ending the top half of the sixth.

    He allowed just two runs on seven hits and fanned 10 in the season opener.

    “Gino was Gino; that’s how he has been for the last three years,” Smrdel said. “He goes out there with the right mindset, and he throws strikes. He doesn’t let anything get to him. He’s got a great mindset, and he’s a great pitcher. We rely on him.”

    Blasini relied on his off-speed repertoire to keep the Blue Devils off balance.

    “Feels great. I was just throwing strikes, and our defense played great,” Blasini said. “My off-speed stuff was working well. My slider and curveball were hitting the strike zone today.”

    Thaler led the Kirtland offense at the plate.

    He finished the game 2-for-3 with two runs batted in and two runs scored. Cantini was 1-for-3 with two RBI, Luzar finished 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Paul scored a run and knocked in another. Jack Turk also recorded a pair of hits for the Hornets.

    Widemire and Bucar both collected two hits for Wickliffe and Henderson was 1-for-3.

    Kirtland travels to Wickliffe on Tuesday to close out the season series against the Blue Devils.

     

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