Lakewood, OH – Out of the 9 Diamond League (DL) teams, Ohio Longhorns AS and Release Baseball were the two that advanced to the championship defeating Premier Ohio 8-3 and Longhorns JD 15-5, respectively. Longhorns AS finished with the fifth-best record at 3-3 while Release had a 4-1 season which was good for second place.
Before they met in the championship, Release run ruled Longhorns AS 19-1 on Sunday, June 5, at Coulby Park, but it was a different game on Tuesday evening. Matthew Mihalek, one of their best pitchers, took the mound for Release. He retired the first two in order, but a drop third strike and a Jeff Brenner throwing error allowed Parker Varney to reach first. Mihalek walked Jeremy Moore and Dunlap to load the bases. The right-hander got out of trouble by getting Zach Scibelli to fly out to Niall Todd in right.
Longhorns starter Howie Ryder dismantled Release by striking out the side as he had all his pitches working for him. In the next frame, Mihalek sent down the eight seven through nine hitters in order with a pair of strikeouts.
Ryder’s strong command wasn’t there in the second, which resulted in two runs scoring. Aidan Barnhardt led off the frame with a double, and Jonathan Mitchner bunted one down the first baseline. However, the problem was that he didn’t have a single foot in the batter’s box, so the umpire ruled him out. Barnhardt advanced to second with Ernie Phillips following it up by swinging and missing as the ball ricocheted off the umpire, rolling in foul territory up the third base side. Barnhardt alertly scampered home while Phillips advanced to second. Three batters later, he walked in a run when he issued a free pass to Todd with two outs, making it 2-0 Release.
Mihalek once again retired the side, punched out two, and at that point retired seven straight Longhorns. His offense that scored 56 runs in the regular season added two in the third when Gino Lazzari blasted one over the high fence in right field, and Barnhardt drove in Robert Boyce with a single.
After walking Mitchner, Scibelli came into the game in a tough spot for any pitcher with nobody out and the bases load. He struck out Phillips and Brenner to begin his outing, and then Todd after he walked Andrew Eichenauer, keeping it a 4-run deficit
The Longhorns started to chip away in the fifth when Parker Wilson singled home Martin making it a 4-1 game. They had the opportunity to add more, but Mihalek struck out Ryder and Varney to finish the half inning.
Scibelli returned to face the middle of the order – Barnhardt, Mitchner, and Phillips – who singled, walked, and flew out to right to advance Barnhardt to third. The righty would punch out Brenner, and then Todd after he sent Eichenauer on a free pass.
Scibelli’s scoreless fifth led to the four-run sixth, giving the Longhorns a slim 5-4 lead. Mihalek looked poised for another zero, however, Connor Bozak bobbled a ball hit by Scibelli at short, which changed the whole complexion of the inning and game. Then, John Tardio walked, and Lazzari entered for Release with two down. Lazzari faced a pinch-hitter who drove in a run, and the next four Longhorns reached, including Garrison Martin's RBI single and Wilson's 2 RBI single.
The Longhorns were in trouble once again in the sixth when two of the first three reached, however, Scibelli got out of it by striking out Barnhardt and Mitchner. In the seventh, the Longhorns didn’t get the insurance run home after having multiple chances with runners in scoring position. So, it came down to the right arm of Scibelli and the bats of Phillips, Brenner, and Eichenauer.
Phillips lined one right at Wilson for out number one, and Sciebelli struck out the last to give the 18u Connie Mack Championship to Ohio Longhorns AS. Scibelli picked up the win in relief, going 5.0 scoreless innings with 3 hits, 0 runs, 0 earned runs, 4 walks, and 10 strikeouts, while Lazzari was handed the blown save and loss after not recording an out with a line of 3 hits, 2 runs, 0 earned runs, 1 walk, and 0 strikeouts.