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Lions, Bulldogs happy to share

UNITY–The East Palestine and Heartland Christian baseball teams received upgrades this season as they are sharing a home at the new Next Level Sports Complex.

“It’s nice to have this new field,” East Palestine’s Dustin Bourne said. “The old field at the park was getting worn down and this field is great.”

The Bulldogs, who were the home team on Thursday, took the first meeting of the two teams at their shared home, 8-4.

East Palestine improves to 2-3 while Heartland Christian falls to 0-3.

East Palestine’s previous home was at the East Palestine City Park and Heartland Christian returned to the diamond after not having a team the previous season.

“The field is fantastic,” Heartland Christian coach Chris Gault said. “The kids have been hungry to play and its great that this field is ready for play.”

The Next Level Sports Complex features six fields and an indoor training facility.

The complex will also host the East Palestine softball team along with little league tournaments throughout the summer.

“Mr. (Jim) Vance did a great job building these fields,” East Palestine coach Carmen Nocera said. “This is a top notch facility that is going to be a big thing for this area.”

The infields are made of a brick and clay mix.

The scheduling for the two teams has been an easy process as the two athletic directors have worked out a way for the teams to have home games every other day.

The two teams are also assigned their own practice field.

“Both schools have been willing to work together,” Gault said. “The athletic directors are doing a great job of making sure that both teams are accommodated.”

On the field, the Bulldogs jumped on the Lions early scoring six runs in the first inning.

The young Lion team was plagued by fielding errors in the inning that allowed the Bulldogs to get the early lead.

“We worked this team early and Dustin did a great job on the mound to get us ahead,” Nocera said.

East Palestine added another run off a fielding error in the bottom of the third making the score 7-0.

Jordon Fristik had an RBI double in the bottom of the fourth to round out the Bulldogs scoring.

Bourne kept the Lions at bay until the bottom of the sixth inning when Heartland got three consecutive hits that led to a Joey Donofrio two-run single making the score 8-2.

“I was pounding the strike zone but they eventually figured out my stuff,” Bourne said.

Hayden Stewart added an RBI single making the score 8-4 going into the bottom of the sixth inning.

“East Palestine is a very respectable program,” Gault said. “Our kids battled back and I am proud of them for that.”

Heartland’s starting lineup features nine freshman and is still in a growing stage.

“This is going to be a year of growing,” Gault said. “We started building this team through the Pony League a few years ago. We got 11 guys and it is great to be able to compete.”

Heartland lacked a baseball culture the past few years that Gault hopes to grow over the next few years.

“The kids started playing all together about two years ago in Pony League and now that they are in high school the staff are all excited about the team,” Gault said. “We have young guys coming up that are excited to play too.”

East Palestine returns to action when they travel to Western Reserve on Saturday for a doubleheader.

Heartland hosts Southern in a doubleheader on Saturday.

Game notes

¯The teams were happy to hear that the Ohio High School Athletic Association voted to extend the high school baseball season a week starting in 2019.

“It is much needed,” Gault said. “This year has been brutal and I think it’s a good move.”

HC: 0-0-0-0-0-4-0–4-6-6

EP: 6-0-1-1-0-0-x–8-5-2

EP– Dustin Bourne, wp (6IP, 12K, 2BB), Justin Hooley (1IP, 2K) and Cameron Wischerman

HC– Joey Donofrio, lp (1/3 IP, 3BB), Tom Kling (3 2/3 IP, 3K, 2BB), Luke Rafferty (2 IP, 1K, 1BB) and Aaron Gault.

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