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Mogadore baseball picks up impressive sweep of Rootstown

Mogadore third baseman Garrett Penix keeps his eyes on the ball to make a catch during Thursday night's game at Rootstown High School.
Mogadore third baseman Garrett Penix keeps his eyes on the ball to make a catch during Thursday night's game at Rootstown High School.

ROOTSTOWN — Three straight wins was a big deal for Wildcats baseball.

What happened against the Rovers Tuesday and Thursday was even bigger.

Facing a Rootstown team that has captured four straight Portage Trail Conference championships and seven straight victories over Mogadore entering this season, the Wildcats swept the two-game series.

"We've been working hard all year," junior catcher Mason Williams said. "We put in the hours, put in the time. I mean this whole atmosphere we have, everyone's going, everyone's having a good time."

The accomplishment certainly wasn't lost on Mogadore's new head coach Matt Dillon.

"Obviously, we have a lot of respect for Keith Waesch and Matt Collins, their coaches, they've always done a great job," Dillon said. "That's why they've been so consistent because of the coaching staff making the kids play the right way. We kind of told our kids if you want to take the next step, these are the type of teams you have to beat, and to our kids' credit. we thought we played very consistent in two consecutive games against Rootstown."

On Tuesday, the Wildcats won a pitcher's duel, 1-0, as Rootstown's Nathan Galambos and Mogadore's Garrett Penix both tossed complete games with Penix striking out 12.

On Thursday, the Wildcats broke a pitcher's duel open, turning a scoreless ballgame after three innings into an 8-0 victory, but even then, it wasn't about flash. Aside from Williams' booming triple over the left fielder, Mogadore's other eight hits were all singles.

Mogadore pitcher Ronnie Skye throws from the mound during Thursday night's game at Rootstown High School.
Mogadore pitcher Ronnie Skye throws from the mound during Thursday night's game at Rootstown High School.

Meanwhile, Ronnie Skye made it back-to-back shutouts for the Wildcats.

"Coach [Chris] Williams does an excellent job of getting the kids to understand how to pitch, not throw," Dillon said. "That's what Rootstown's had. They've had pitchers and not throwers and we're trying to get to that point, and Coach Williams has worked with Ronnie, but at the same time, Ronnie understands a little bit on his own how to get a hitter out."

Mogadore catcher Mason Williams connects for a hit during Thursday night's game at Rootstown High School.
Mogadore catcher Mason Williams connects for a hit during Thursday night's game at Rootstown High School.

The Wildcats simply executed all week.

"We haven't beat Rootstown in a while," Mogadore sophomore first baseman Bo Lanham said. "The whole team, we come to the cages, attack it every day, hungry for another day. Just come here and we did everything right."

Mogadore bunted well, including successful sacrifice bunts that led to runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.

"We got most of them down," Dillon said. "If you want to win games like this, you have to do little things correctly."

The Wildcats pitched well, tossing 14 shutout innings.

And they defended well, making a single error over the two-game series, with right fielder Javon Spicer adding a final flourish with a couple of diving catches in the gap.

"You have to make the routine plays," Dillon said. "If you give a team like Rootstown another opportunity, if you give them four outs in an inning, they're going to make your pay and fortunately our kids have bought into let's make the routine plays."

Looking back, the strides were clear even before the Rovers and Wildcats tangled this week.

In 2018, Mogadore couldn't make it past the fifth inning against Rootstown, losing a pair of run-rule contests.

The Wildcats also lost decisively to the Rovers in 2019 by a combined margin of 23-5.

But last year, Mogadore inched closer.

After Rootstown romped to an 11-0 victory in the series opener, the Wildcats dropped two close games (5-2 and 3-0) on the Rovers' home field.

Still, this year's Mogadore team has made a quick jump, helped by the contribution of underclassmen like Skye, a sophomore, who tossed a shutout Thursday while throwing fewer than 100 pitches.

"He hits every spot," Williams said. "You tell him to do something, he does it. He is just like all these sophomores, all these freshmen. I mean we put sophomores in right, center, left. We got sophomores, we have freshmen all over the field."

Indeed, just behind Williams and Penix in the order, sophomores Lanham, who went 4-for-6 over the two-game series, and Devin Graham, who went 3-for-6, have added critical depth.

"Bo and Devin are two kids that have really come on this season," Dillon said. "They're focused when we go into the hitting cage. They're not screwing around. They're focused when we're trying to do things at practice and it's paying off for both Bo and Devin in the games."

To add context to the rise of sophomores like Lanham, consider that he was playing behind a strong first baseman in Cory Gasaway last season and thus didn't get all that many at-bats.

Now, Lanham is in the five-hole and thriving.

And the Wildcats are thriving.

"This is just huge for everyone," Lanham said. "Our freshmen, they don't know what this means yet, but they'll get it, and our seniors, they've been battling for that league title and to beat Rootstown for a while. Us sophomores, we lost to them last year. I know a couple of us got in there to swing or get in the field. It's just huge for us. It makes us feel like we got something to look forward to."

Mogadore shortstop John Dasco reaches for a ball during Thursday night's game at Rootstown High School.
Mogadore shortstop John Dasco reaches for a ball during Thursday night's game at Rootstown High School.

Jaggar Kokochak impresses for Rootstown

Rootstown senior catcher Jaggar Kokochak connects for a hit during Thursday night's game against the Mogadore Wildcats in Rootstown.
Rootstown senior catcher Jaggar Kokochak connects for a hit during Thursday night's game against the Mogadore Wildcats in Rootstown.

While the two-game series ended on a sour note for the Rovers, as Thursday's game got away from them in the later innings, senior catcher Jaggar Kokochak impressed.

He reached base in both of his at-bats Thursday, sending a sharp single through the right side in the third inning of a then-scoreless contest and walking in the fifth.

​"Jaggar has come a long way and I'm really proud of that kid," Rootstown coach Keith Waesch said. "Not only from a defensive standpoint but at the plate, from his freshman season until now, he's probably one of the most improved kids in our program and he has stepped up."

Kokochak also made a couple of impressive plays in the top of the fifth, fielding a tricky bunt in front of the plate and firing to first, and later surging toward the first-base dugout to catch a foul pop, and nearly bowling over sophomore hurler Austin Biggin in the process,

"He really has proven to be one of the better catchers in the league and he's thrown out four or five kids this year and shut down some teams on the bases," Waesch said. "I'm proud of the kid."

This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Mogadore baseball picks up impressive sweep of Rootstown