Kruszka brothers propel Gowanda to 12-2 victory
GOWANDA — Leadership, trust and a comeback mentality led the No. 7 Gowanda Panthers to a victory over the No. 10 Akron Tigers, 12-2, in Section VI Class B2 playoffs.
Already down 2-0 in the bottom of the third inning, Gowanda’s offense struggled.
However, David Poff was hit by a pitch and Matt Kruszka was on second on an Akron error. With Andrew Kruszka stepping up to the plate, Matt Kruszka had a meeting with his little brother on the third-base line. Matt leaned in toward Andrew, gave him a few words of advice and then retreated back to second base.
Gowanda coach Tim Smith was less than 10 feet away, although, he did not intervene. He felt confident in what Matt Kruszka would say.
“He’s been around long enough. He is pretty much — even though he is a teenager — he is a coach out here for the team,” Smith said. “He has been out here for six years. He knows everything that is going on; he knows what we are doing; he knows what we are going to do in certain situations and him giving advice is kind of an extension of myself.”
One pitch later, Andrew Kruszka smacked the ball to the outfield, where the center fielder struggled to obtain the heater. It was a two-run error, where Andrew Kruszka advanced to third on the throw. The hard shot off the bat woke up the rest of the lineup.
The Kruszka brothers put their heads together and got the Panthers on the board.
“I told him what pitches their pitcher was throwing for strikes and what he wasn’t,” Matt Kruszka said. “And I told him what to expect because he was struggling to throw his curveball for a strike. He was starting most batters off with a fastball. I told him look for the fastball first pitch and drive it if you get it.”
Four runs were scored via four errors in the third inning by the Akron defenders. The big inning put the Panthers ahead, 4-2, after three innings.
The Panther offense was prone to popouts and weak grounders in its first few at bats, but after the game-changing third, the bats changed from feeble flyouts to difficult liners.
In the fifth inning, Gowanda put more pressure on the Akron fielders and off of a Brian Gernatt one-out double, the Panthers put together a three-run fifth to go up, 7-2.
The momentum continued in Gowanda’s favor as the sixth inning ended with the Panthers scoring five more runs with another double by Gernatt.
The Panthers rounded out the scoring to finish the game with a score of 12-2.
Matt Kruszka was on the mound for Gowanda. The right-handed senior pitcher — after he gave up two runs in the top of the third — was given a comfortable lead after three innings.
He shut down the Tigers from there on out as, he ended the game with six innings of work and struck out five.
“There were a couple batters that I just couldn’t throw strikes to,” Matt Kruszka said. “I was just trying to pound corners. My curveball wasn’t working at the beginning of the game and I was relying on my fastball. But later in the game, I found my curveball and I was just pounding corners.”
Jacob Quiter came in relief for the seventh inning and got the save with two strikeouts.
After the third inning, Akron could not get a runner on base. In innings four through seven, the Tigers had only one runner get on base. Collin Frey hit a double with two outs in the sixth, but the third out came right after.
Stephen Wagner was the starting pitcher for the Tigers in the loss. Jacob Siska pitched relief for Akron.
Connor Halftown went 2 for 4 at the plate in the win with a run scored and a stolen base.
“It’s another total team effort. There was no panicking, for sure,” Smith said. “We were down, 2-0, after coming out pretty strong in the first couple innings. It was probably a little bit of a wake-up call to get the bats going and get guys on. Once we did all that, they started to make some defensive mistakes.”
The No. 7 Panthers will travel to face No. 2 Tonawanda today with first pitch at 5 p.m.