By Brad Morris
It would have been easy for Amanda-Clearcreek to get a little down on Monday as the Aces left a whopping 10 runners on base over the opening five innings of a Division III Central District semifinal.
Instead, the Aces kept on grinding and finally broke through in a big way. Amanda-Clearcreek scored seven runs in its final two at-bats, highlighted by a five-run seventh, to take its first lead and stun host Centerburg 7-4.
“We came out with our guns blazing in the first inning where our guys were really squaring up the baseball. We had a runner called out on a tough play at home that cut short a good opportunity,” Amanda-Clearcreek coach Travis Stone said. “After that, we were getting runners on, but we didn’t put together productive at-bats with either moving the runners or knocking them in.
“We started resorting to a little small ball in the sixth that got us going and then we had some clutch hits there in the seventh, where we started squaring up the baseball again and driving in runs.”
The fourth-seeded Aces (18-6) return to a district final for the second consecutive season on Wednesday, where they will once again face second-seeded Fredericktown (19-6) at Olentangy Orange.
“It’s a testament to our guys for getting back to the district final again and having an opportunity to play for a district championship,” Stone said. “Our goal entering the season was to win a district championship.”
Cade Young had three of the Aces’ nine hits and scored and Trent Hedges drove in a pair of runs and singled twice to help lead the way.
“Cade sparked us in the seventh and, overall, this was probably the best high school game he’s had in his career from having three hits, to handling our pitchers and being solid defensively,” Stone praised.
Third-seeded Centerburg (20-5) stretched its lead to 3-0 in the fifth when Grayson Reynolds scored on an error.
The Aces started their road back by scoring a pair of runs in the sixth.
Grant Guiler singled to left with one out and came all the way around to score on an error on a ground ball hit by Hunter Matheny. Matheny advanced to third on the second Centerburg error of the inning and scored on a single off the bat of Ryan Chambers.
Down to their final three outs, the Aces came through with a big seventh to continue their season.
Young led off the inning with a single to left and advanced to third on an errant throw on a sacrifice bunt by Kansas Rhymer. Landon Mills followed with a sacrifice fly to left that scored Young to tie the game.
“Landon struck out a couple of times earlier in the game and we were thinking about potentially using one of our bats off the bench and pinch-hit for him,” Stone revealed. “He came over and said, ‘I really want this’, so we decided to stay with him. He came through and did his job.”
Blayne Barker then gave the Aces their first lead of the night when he smashed a 1-1 offering into left for a double that chased home Rhymer.
Guiler reached on the second Centerburg error of the inning on a ground ball that allowed Barker to score from second.
After Matheny was hit by a pitch and a ground out, Hedges lined a 1-2 offering into right for a two-run single that scored both Guiler and Matheny to make it 7-3 Aces.
“That was a big hit by Trent, because it allowed us to stretch our lead,” Stone said.
Centerburg scored a run in the seventh and had the tying run at the plate with no outs. Hedges retired the next three batters on a fielder’s choice and back-to-back strikeouts swinging to secure the Aces a spot in the district final.
Chambers started the game and then came on in relief of Peyton Cassley in the seventh. He tossed three-plus innings and allowed five hits, three earned runs, walked five and struck out three. Cassley claimed the win in relief, allowing three hits, an earned run and struck out a batter. Hedges nailed down the save, allowing a hit and striking out two.
“Ryan’s pitched well for us, but he was struggling with throwing his off-speed pitches tonight. It’s a testament to his grittiness that he was able to eat up a few innings for us,” Stone said. “Peyton did a nice job following Ryan in relief. We wanted to have the option of using Peyton if we need him on Wednesday, so once we got the 7-3 lead in the seventh, we decided to bring Ryan back in.
“Ryan got in a little trouble, so we brought in Trent to help close the door with a couple of big strikeouts. We accomplished our goal of having both Trent and Peyton available for the district final on Wednesday.”
The Aces now turn their attention to the Freddies, which edged Worthington Christian 4-3 on Monday to continue their season. Amanda-Clearcreek will seek to avenge a 4-3 loss to Fredericktown last season in a district final. The Aces led 3-1 in that game entering the bottom of the seventh, but the host Freddies scored three runs to walk-off with the district final.
“From the moment we watched Fredericktown walk-off with the district final last year we’ve used that as motivation,” Stone said. “We used it in our offseason training and we watched the video of the game at the beginning of the season to refresh that memory, because we don’t want to let that happen again.
“We had a good regular-season with finishing second in the (Mid-State League Buckeye Division) and getting a high seed. What we’ve done so far is a testament to our nine seniors and the fortitude they’d had to stick through things. We know Fredericktown has a really good team, but we hope they get rewarded for that fortitude on Wednesday.”