Rootstown's resilience leads it to a familiar place

Rootstown sophomore third baseman Tony Karp, shown in an earlier game, had a two-out, two-run single for the Rovers against Garfield on Wednesday.
Rootstown sophomore third baseman Tony Karp, shown in an earlier game, had a two-out, two-run single for the Rovers against Garfield on Wednesday.

ROOTSTOWN — The Rovers lost their starting shortstop in a December basketball game.

They lost their ace midway through the 2022 season.

So, no, a steady dose of light rain and a 3-0 deficit in Wednesday's Division III sectional championship game wasn't going to rattle them.

Unruffled, No. 7 Rootstown scored five straight runs to win an old Portage Trail Conference rivalry with No. 10 Garfield, 5-3.

"To say that these kids have hung in there amidst some very difficult times and fought through some adversity would be an understatement," Rovers coach Keith Waesch said. "For these kids to come back and win 13 of the 18 games that they've played so far I think is a real tribute to them and being able to fight through adversity."

Perhaps no one was a greater symbol of Wednesday's battle through adversity than senior hurler Nathan Galambos, who fought through a 34-pitch second inning to earn the complete-game victory for Rootstown.

After the first five G-Men batters reached to start the second, including a two-RBI single by Keaton Eberly, Galambos limited the damage to three runs by leaving the bases loaded, thus keeping the Rovers within striking distance.

"I don't think there was too much Nathan did wrong," Waesch said. "I do believe that there was damage control done in that inning because that three-run inning could have been a five-run inning very easily."

Galambos then began to assert himself on the mound, never tossing more than 12 pitches in an inning over the last five frames.

"I've been pitching for a little bit so I can mindset through a good amount of things," Galambos said. "Like first couple innings, I'm a little slower, rusty, like I got to get warmed up, but I just say it's a mindset thing. I'm able to not get too mad at myself when I'm on the mound."

Meanwhile, the Rovers' offense roared to life, starting with a two-out, two-RBI grounder up the middle by sophomore Tony Karp in the third inning to draw within 3-2.

"I thought he had probably one of the biggest hits of the game for us," Waesch said. "Had he not gotten that hit, had they gotten out of that inning, I think that would have been devastating for us."

An inning later, Rootstown tied the game, as senior Justin Pratt and sophomore Joe Weaver reached on back-to-back grounders with sophomore Austin Biggin and junior Jake Cultrona moving the tying run to third and then home, respectively, with a pair of groundouts.

The go-ahead run also scored thanks to a bit of small ball as Galambos stole second with senior Isaac Di Tirro on third base.

As the throw sailed to second, Di Tirro tore home for a 4-3 lead.

A couple of pitches later, Pratt added a line drive to the opposite field for an RBI single and a 5-3 advantage.

As a result, the Rovers, who will next face No. 11 Mooney Monday, are headed to the district stage for the third straight season.

"It feels good to keep it going, especially with the teams we've had in the past few years because they've been just amazing honestly," Galambos said. "So, yeah, it feels good to be back here."

Justin Pratt shines for Rootstown

Three times Wednesday, Justin Pratt stepped up to the plate.

Three times, the senior reached base with a grounder or a liner to the opposite field, including an RBI single to push the Rovers' lead to 5-3.

It was a remarkable performance from Pratt, who earlier this season was struggling at the plate and found himself playing only in the field at times as Rootstown opted to insert a designated hitter in his place.

"I just understood that like I wasn't hitting the greatest so they had to put someone in that can hit," Pratt said. "I didn't let it affect me."

Rather than sulk, Pratt pushed forward, leading to Wednesday's performance.

"As I tell kids, you're still going to get another chance often times and he's gotten a second chance," Waesch said. "Today, he came through about as big as you could possibly come through in that situation."

Bottom of the order excels for Rootstown

All told, four of the Rovers' seven hits came from the bottom of the order, including Pratt's pair of singles and a single apiece from eight-hitter Joe Weaver and nine-hitter Austin Biggin.

Indeed, the bottom of the order played a key role in all three innings in which Rootstown scored a run.

In the third, down 3-0, it was Biggin who sparked a two-run rally with a leadoff single. The next inning, it was Pratt reaching on an error and Weaver singling to put runners on first and second with no one out. In the fifth, Pratt delivered a key blow with an RBI single to right.

"That's been something that really has been a trend for us this year is the bottom of our order has found ways to get on base and come up big in big games," Waesch said. "Today was no exception. To get four hits out of your bottom three kids is a nice day. Any coach will take that."

Waesch credits Matt Collins

The Rovers lost two of their three top pitchers from a year ago to graduation in Adam Beery and Matt Brown. Then, the third, Mason Bartholomy, suffered an injury that allowed him to hit but not pitch.

And yet, the Rovers roll on, led by big performances from guys like sophomore Austin Biggin and Galambos.

There's another name behind the scenes, however, that has helped keep the ship moving.

"Matt Collins really is an unsung hero," Waesch said of his pitching coach. "I mean he's not out there throwing, but he calls great games and I just marvel at the way that we've been able to execute."

Garfield scores three in the second

An error got the G-Men going in the second.

They rolled from there.

Center fielder Anthony Demma scorched a double to the left-field gap to put runners on second and third.

Designated hitter Keaton Eberly managed to scoop out a low pitch and deposit it into short center to plate both runners.

Jackson Sommer brought home a third run with an RBI groundout.

Unfortunately for the G-Men, outside of the second inning, Galambos held them to one hit.

This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Rootstown Rovers baseball's resilience leads it to a familiar place