By MARK HAZELWOOD
TIFFIN -- Nothing felt right.
And in the end, nothing looked right.
An uncharacteristically poor performance in many areas saw Sandusky Post 83 suffer a stunning loss 7-3 loss to Avon Lake Post 211 in the opening game of the double-elimination 5th district tournament at Tiffin University's Heminger Field.
Post 83 (28-3), the two-time defending state champions, must win four consecutive games in the loser's bracket with a suddenly thinner pitching staff over a four-day span just to reach Sunday's championship bracket.
A year ago, Post 83 ran through the district unblemished to reach state and in 2008 it bounced back from a third round setback to advance.
That quest to stay alive will begin Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Heidelberg University against the loser of today's Elyria-Galion/Mansfield matchup.
"We didn't play good baseball today," Post 83 coach Ray Neill said. "I don't know that there's one aspect where I can say we played well."
Lost in the immediate aftermath of the game was the fact that just two weeks ago, Post 83 beat Avon Lake twice by a combined margin of 19-0.
"We got the early lead, but once we let them back in it the momentum swung to their dugout," Neill said. "And we tightened up over here and didn't do things that a good baseball team needs to do."
A run in each of the first two innings staked Post 83 to a 2-0 lead, but the second inning proved to illustrate a familiar theme of letting opportunities slip by.
For the game, Post 83 stranded 10 runners on base.
Adam Manner (Bellevue) opened with an infield single in the second and Evan Laser (Perkins) quickly followed with a single. The two advanced to second and third with one out after Josh Gerold's (Perkins) sacrifice bunt.
Matt Gundlach (Ashland/Perkins) was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out, but with Trey Keegan at the plate Manner scored on a wild pitch and Laser moved up to third.
In the first inning, Gundlach also scored on a wild pitch.
Keegan struck out for the second out in the inning, and with Cody Koch (Kent State/Perkins) at the plate, Avon Lake's catcher allowed a passed ball and Laser broke for home.
A third straight run due to poor command by Avon Lake wasn't to be, however, as the catcher recovered to make the throw to starting pitcher Mason Wisner, who applied the tag just in time to get Laser to end the inning.
Avon Lake made it a 2-1 deficit in the fourth as a walk issued by Post 83 starting pitcher Spencer Bryant (Perkins 2010) came around to score on an RBI single.
It tied the game in the fifth on an RBI double with two outs.
Post 83 responded in the sixth as Bryant led off with a double and advanced to third on a ground out by Cory Brown (Port Clinton). Brady Smith (Sandusky) drove in Bryant with an RBI single for a 3-2 lead, but it was the last time Post 83 led in the game.
Avon Lake plated a pair of runs in the bottom half of the inning for a 4-3 lead and Sandusky never recovered.
Back-to-back singles and a throw to the wrong base put runners at second and third with no outs. Avon Lake proceeded to use an RBI groundout and a sacrifice bunt to score both runs.
> A pair of singles in the seventh saw Avon Lake take a 5-3 lead, but Brown led off the top half of the eighth for Post 83 with a double in an attempt to rejuvenate the offense. However, back-to-back strikeouts and a groundout ended the threat.
With two outs and runners at second and third in the bottom of the eighth, Avon Lake got it's hardest hit ball of the game with a towering two-run double that split the defenders in left-center to blow it open for the 7-3 lead.
"They were running into some outs at second base and we just did not recognize that," Neill said. "In turn we put a lot of pressure on Spencer. He wasn't his best, but he battled for us.
"You have to credit Avon Lake, they got some two-out hits off him. When they needed a key hit they got it."
Defensively, Post 83 committed three errors, but Neill added there were several more mental errors that don't show up in the scorebook.
"We didn't swing the bats well and defensively we were the team making the mistakes," he said. "We didn't even throw the ball to the right base a couple times.
On top of that, we were making throws to bases where we didn't even have a chance to get those runners out."
Moving forward, the starting pitching is a bit up in the air Wednesday due to an undisclosed leg injury to Zak Esposito (Sandusky 2010).
"Fortunately it's not one and done," Neill said. "In a healthy world, we have enough pitching to battle back and maybe give ourselves a chance.
"I don't think Zak will be able to throw on Wednesday. If he's not, we'll go with Adam Manner and Zak can be ready Friday ... if there is a Friday."
Sandusky 110 001 000 - 3 9 1
Avon Lake 000 112 12x - 7 12 0
WP - Mason Wisner; LP - Spencer Bryant
2B - (83): Bryant, Cory Brown