It has been an uphill fight for Cleveland High in its two games with Kennedy this week. The first few innings have been rocky propositions, and Cleveland just hasn’t managed to make it over the hump.
“It seems like we’ve always got a mountain to climb,” Cleveland assistant Marty Siegel said. “It’s 8-0, 6-0 or 5-0 real early.”
It was the latter Thursday, thanks in part to a first-inning Everest shot over the left-field fence by Gino Tagliaferri, as Kennedy beat Cleveland, 6-1, in a North Valley League game at Cleveland.
Tagliaferri, a senior shortstop, drilled a towering two-run home run that helped stake Kennedy (9-2, 5-1 in league play) to a 5-0 lead against right-hander Mario Valencia. After Tagliaferri’s home run, Kennedy scored three more runs, which certainly contributed to Siegel’s heighted sense of frustration.
“Valencia pitched a helluva game,” Siegel groused. “Except for that first inning.”
It has become a pattern for the Cavaliers, as has Tagliaferri’s long-ball attack. Kennedy took a 5-0 lead after two innings in Tuesday’s 11-1 win over Cleveland, a game in which Tagliaferri hit a grand slam and a solo home run. Tagliaferri--a two-time Times All-Valley selection--was two for three with two runs batted in Thursday, giving him seven RBIs this week.
“I’m being more selective this year,” said Tagliaferri, who has five home runs, high among Valley-area players and as many as he hit all last season. “I’m not letting them outsmart me.”
Kennedy starter Denny Sharp was more than wily enough for Cleveland (2-3-1, 2-3-1), but was almost too smart for his own good. Sharp, a left-hander, finished with a one-hitter and struck out 11, but walked four batters in the third to force in Cleveland’s lone run.
“It’s all mental,” said Sharp, a 5-foot-10, 155-pound junior who improved his record to 4-0 and has 51 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. “I just had to get back in the groove.”
Cleveland, to be sure, was in a rut all week. Kennedy right-hander Mitch Cizek threw a three-hitter Tuesday and the Cavaliers scored only two runs in 14 innings after entering the week with 37 runs in four games.
“When his hook’s on, nobody can beat him,” said Tagliaferri, in reference to Sharp’s curveball.
Sharp set the hook early, whipped out the gaff and landed the Cavaliers. More often than not, he kept Cleveland hitters off balance with the curve, then punched them out with the fastball. The only hit Sharp allowed was a two-out ground single to center in the first by James Molinelli. Sharp, who pitched last season on the junior varsity, struck out six batters on called strikes.
Valencia (1-1) allowed only five hits after the first inning, but the damage had been done. In addition to Tagliaferri’s home run, Travis Bourne and Danny Gugler singled in runs and Lazaro Campos drove home another with a ground out.
Sharp fanned five batters in the first two innings. After the third inning, only one Cleveland batter reached third--after a two-base error by Tagliaferri.