NORTH CANTON  It’s really the only way this season could come to a close.

After weeks of rain, snow, sub-freezing temperatures and more postponements and cancellations than anyone could ever want, the high school baseball season in Northeast Ohio is finally in its homestretch.

The play on the field has mirrored and been impacted by the erratic schedule and with the campaign down to its closing days, veteran Hoover head coach Jeff Hite and his team are trying to make the most of what’s left.

"It’s been an up and down season … we’ve played well in stretches and also, not so well defensively in stretches," Hite said, speaking the day of his team’s sectional final game against Lake.

The matchup with Lake encapsulates the season overall for the Vikings for several reasons. For starters, a third matchup with a league rival is one of the more difficult challenges a team can face in a given season. Secondly, even as they prepared for the sectional final, the two teams still had a regular-season game against one another to make up after it was postponed due to weather last month.

Knowing they had two tilts with Lake and very different stakes in each game, the Vikings continued the winding, meandering trek that has been their season. Add in two makeup games against Canton McKinley and the team’s place in the Federal League standings was far from determined even playing in a sectional tournament game with their season on the line from a postseason point of view.

"It’s really difficult when you play everybody twice in the Federal League and there’s always good chance play somebody for a third time, but this is Northeast Ohio and the weather is usually shaky at best," Hite noted.

What has been consistent for Hoover has been its pitching staff, which has been largely solid and gotten strong efforts from starters and relievers alike.

Sophomore Brody Ware has settled in as the team’s top starter and although his record of 3-3 isn’t as glittering as some number one starters in the area, he’s delivered several strong performances and hasn’t always gotten a win depending on how the offense is going on a given day.

"He’s done really well and his record doesn’t indicate how well he’s really pitched," Hite said. "Against Lake, he threw seven shutout innings and it was 0-0 after seven. His pitch count was high so we took him out and ended up getting beat in eight innings, 3-0."

Hite noted that it’s "never easy being a number one starter," as those pitchers take the mound against other Federal League team’s top starters in the first of each two-game league series. Having enough quality arms to sustain a high level of pitching beyond that first game can be tough and when games mount the way they have with the weather this season, teams find themselves scrambling to put their staff in order.

For Hoover, the sectional final capped a busy five-day span in which they had a game against Youngstown Ursuline, a doubleheader against Marlington, a tournament game against Youngstown East and the Lake contest, all crammed into that short time frame. Even though the East game was shortened by the run rule in a 25-0 win for the Vikings, it still meant more innings on a rotation that could have used a breather.

Still, busy time of the season or not, it’s an emotional one for the squad’s four seniors. Three of them, Hite noted, have played together since elementary school.

His son, Jordan Hite, along with Ryan Murphy and Bryce Grisez, have played hundreds of innings together over the years and as three of the four seniors on the roster, they know their time together on the diamond is limited. The result, Jeff Hite said, is a mix of nerves and intensity for all four seniors.

In that sense, having makeup games could be seen as a plus because whether they’re still in the tournament or not, seniors getting a chance to put on the uniform and play the game they enjoy for a few more innings before graduation rolls around and they move on to the next chapter in their lives is a reason to smile. So as the year is winnowed down pitch by pitch, Hoover will keep chugging along and doing what it can to make the most out of the time it has left.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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