In Monday's 3-2 come-from-behind win against Portage County

By Eric Clutter Record-Courier staff writer Published:

In Monday's 3-2 come-from-behind win against Portage County League National Division rival Windham, the senior entered the game in the top of the seventh inning with his team trailing 2-1, runners on the corners and only one out.

Steinel promptly fanned the two batters he faced, keeping the Vikings' deficit at only a single run.

In the bottom of that frame, Curt Lindsay's two-run double won the game for Waterloo, giving the Vikes sole possession of first place in the National Division.

Tuesday afternoon, Steinel, who was credited with Monday's victory, was called on by Waterloo coach Doug Mori to pitch in the biggest game of the season _ at Rootstown, with the division title on the line.

At 5-5 in the National Division, the Rovers trailed Waterloo (14-6, 7-5) by only one-half game. A Rover win would allow them to leapfrog Waterloo into first place. A Viking win would place them on the brink of the division title with a 1 1/2 game edge over Rootstown and Windham.

And like he has done throughout his outstanding career at Waterloo, Steinel didn't disappoint as he overcame a shaky first inning to lead his team to a 6-3 victory over the Rovers.

Rootstown (8-10, 5-6 PCL) can still tie Waterloo, but needs wins over Windham (today) and Mogadore, and a Woodridge upset of the Vikings.

But while all the above is conjecture, Steinel and his team's performance against the Rovers is factual.

"This is a team victory. There were so many kids who played well," praised Mori. "Of course you could see the outstanding job we got out of J. R. Steinel. He's been our big gun all year."

In talking about his team and Steinel, Mori said his players have displayed the right frame of mind for success.

"Attitude is the name of the game," said Mori. "They can all hit the ball, can catch the ball. (But) attitude is the name of the game. That's what Steinel has done. He's a bulldog and he's going to come and get you. (This) win was huge."

Though Steinel was very sharp, striking out 12 to up his total to 101 for the season while allowing only six hits, it was the Waterloo offense that set the tone for the game in the very first inning by scoring four times off Rootstown starter Danny Hepler (4-3).

Lindsay started things off by ringing a double to centerfield. Bryan Stotler followed with a single, putting runners at the corners.

Stotler (two hits) was then eliminated from the basepaths when he was thrown out at second on a steal attempt. But his vacancy on the bases was quickly filled by Jeremy Graening, who walked.

First baseman Justin Leigh then clubbed a double just inside the left-field line that produced the game's first two runs. Erik Mori (two hits) proceeded to make the count 3-0 when he singled in Leigh, who narrowly avoided the tag at home plate. Steinel (two doubles, two RBI) capped the inning by driving a ball over Josh Collins' head in center that drove home Mori.

A 4-0 lead with Steinel (8-1) on the mound seemed a safe bet, even though it was only the first inning. But the Rovers came out swinging.

Collins and Ronnie Lewis singled to begin the bottom of the first, then Rob Hemrick drew the first of Steinel's four walks on the day to load the bases with no outs.

Mike Klem then worked the count full before Steinel fanned him on a check swing for the first out of the inning.

The next hitter, Jimmy King, grounded into a force at second to score one run and another raced home on a throwing error, cutting the lead in half.

Waterloo and Steinel got out of further damage when Graening threw out King attempting to steal.

From that point forward, although Rootstown added another run in the fourth and threatened for more, Steinel was in control.

"We had some opportunities, but you have to give J. R. a lot of credit," said Rootstown coach Matt Collins. "We probably had five or six hits against him, but when it came down to crunch time, J. R. came out and showed he definitely is a very good pitcher. Not only did he hurt us with his arm, but he killed us with his bat."

Collins and Lewis each had two hits for Rootstown, while Jeremy Klem added a hit and an RBI.

The Rovers and Vikes will see each other again Thursday, when the venue switches to Waterloo High School for a Division II sectional championship contest between the two schools.

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