BY DAN STICKRADT
TROY — Winning the OAA Red Division baseball title was the furthest thing from Hayato Ando’s mind a year ago. The Troy Athens sophomore didn’t even know it existed.
Ando is from Japan, and is taking part in a one-year foreign exchange program in Troy.
The Red Hawks are glad to have the third baseman in their lineup.
Ando finished 4-for-4 Wednesday and delivered the game-winning RBI in the bottom of the eighth inning, in leading Athens to a 5-4 triumph over visiting arch-rival Troy in the OAA Red Division opener for both teams.
The win marked Athens’ third straight over Troy.
“What a blessing he’s been,” said Athens coach Mike Morris. “He’s a great kid and he’s fitting in well with our team. He had a rough time in our opener Saturday against (Bloomfield Hills) Andover. But he came up big for us in this one.”
David Mandziara led off the bottom half of the eighth with a walk, reached second on a passed ball and stole third. Ando came through by lacing a single between the first and second baseman to end the game.
“It was awesome,” smiled Ando, who picked up his first high school game-winning hit. “The pitch was straight (a fastball)and I just hit it.”
Troy (0-2, 0-1) rallied from a three-run hole to tie the game in the seventh but could not push ahead.
“I don’t want to make excuses. We just didn’t execute,” said Jim Ellis, Troy’s first-year head coach. “We left the bases loaded three times in the game. We haven’t been outside really all season and this was only our second game. That, I’m sure, hurt. But being a new coach, we’re still getting to know these guys.
“I am pleased that we battled back. We just didn’t hang on,” added Ellis. “We had chances to take the lead. We just didn’t get it done, that’s all.”
Troy trailed 4-1 entering the sixth but added a run in the inning when Ambrose DiGiovani scored after a teammate got caught in a pickle. The Colts knotted the score in the next frame when Peter Gebara blasted a two-run homer with no out.
Troy loaded the bases later in the frame, but could not plate the go-ahead run.
Athens led 1-0 in the first when Tommy Eng belted an RBI double. The Colts responded in the third on an RBI single from Tyler Horne.
Athens pulled away with three runs in the fifth. Mandziara and Ando had RBI singles, while Ira Land scored on a throw, all coming with two out.
Athens’ Alex Harrison struck out seven and walked two in six innings, but was stuck with the no decision, as relievers could not hang onto the lead.
Sam Koelzer pitched the eighth to gain the win for Athens (2-1, 1-0). Eng was 3-for-4 with an RBI and scored a run for Athens.
Brandon Wallis took the loss in relief for Troy. Peter Gebara went 3-for-4 for the Colts.
“Winning this one was huge, not just because it’s Troy,” said Morris. “If you want to win the league title, winning the first one is key. It sets you up to go on a roll. Now, we have to get ready of Clarkston on Friday.”