By Brad Morris
Teays Valley coach Mark Colburn was nearly at a loss of words on Thursday to explain how his Vikings had just upset eighth-seeded Lancaster 5-2 in a 13-inning Division I Central District sectional final.
“When you look at the stats and see that Lancaster out-hit us 11-3 and that they left 18 runners on base, it’s just mind-boggling, he said. “It’s hard to explain, but our guys remained upbeat throughout the game, they played with a lot of raw emotion and they were playing for each other.
“When we had our backs to the wall, we had a number of different guys step up and make a big pitch or a big play in the field. At the end of the day, these guys willed themselves to a win despite all the obstacles they had to overcome. It was something to watch and I am so proud of them.”
The two future Ohio Capital Conference Buckeye Division rivals battled to a 2-2 tie on Wednesday when darkness forced the sectional final to be suspended after 11 innings.
When action resumed on Thursday in the Fairfield County seat, the Vikings had an advantage they did not have the day prior — the service of senior ace Matt Farmer.
Farmer needed just 22 pitches, all but four of them strikes, to pitch two innings and strikeout five of the six Lancaster batters he faced in picking up his second win of the postseason and ninth in a spectacular senior campaign for the Mid-State League Buckeye Division Player of the Year.
“Matt only threw 70 pitches in our sectional semifinal on Monday, so the game going a second day to Thursday allowed us to bring Matt back today to pitch,” Colburn said. “He came out and he was straight dealing and dominant with the way he pounded the strike zone.”
The No. 16 seeded Vikings gave Farmer a lead by scoring three runs in the top of the 13th, without the benefit of a single hit.
Jeremiah Fabbro led off the inning and reached on an error by the third baseman and was then sacrificed over to second by Landon Vandegrift.
The next three batters were each hit by a pitch — Ivan Smith, Farmer and Hamilton — to force in Fabbro with the go-ahead run.
Landen McFarland then reached on an error by the second baseman, allowing both Smith and Farmer to also dent the dish and give the Vikings a 5-2 lead.
“We struggled putting the ball in play for most of the game, but we were able to there in the 13th and we benefitted from Lancaster not being able to field a couple of ground balls,” Colburn said. “That really got our guys going and our energy went through the roof.
“There was no way we were going to be stopped in the bottom of the inning, especially with Matt on the mound.”
Farmer then retired the Gales in order in the bottom half of the inning to send the Vikings to a district semifinal for the first time since 2015.
“This was a great win for our baseball program, to be a team and program like what Lancaster has, and to be able to go to districts for the first time in several years,” Colburn said. “I’m so happy for our guys. They deserve it.”
The sectional final was dominated by pitching as 41 of the 79 outs between the two teams were record by strikeout.
Lancaster started its ace Isaac Cooperrider, and he was as good as advertised, striking out 17 batters and allowing only one hit in seven innings.
But that hit was a big one.
McFarland and Ben France both worked a pair of walks and Hayden Wells jumped on the first offering he saw and doubled down the left field line, scoring both runners, to give the Vikings a 2-0 lead in the third.
“Landen and Ben had a couple of quality at-bats and then Hayden turned on a fastball and just whacked it to deep left field,” Colburn said. “We knew that Cooperrider was an absolute stud coming into the game, so we had to take advantage of that one chance because it was the only one we really had when he was on the mound.”
France received the start from coach Mark Colburn and checked the Gales to four hits, hit a batter and struck out six in four and two-third innings.
Lancaster (17-10) scored its pair of runs in the sixth that eventually forced extra innings.
Jackson Burke led off the home sixth with a single and Cooperrider singled to join him on the base pads. Hayden Allen followed and laid down a squeeze bunt to score Burke. Dylan Bird then hit a single to center that knocked in the tying run.
Lancaster had the winning run at third with two outs in the seventh, but Landon Vandegrift struck out Allen on three pitches to provide everyone in attendance some free baseball.
The Gales had the winning run at third with two outs in the 10th inning and again in the 11th, but Vandegrift coaxed a line out to left fielder Jeremiah Fabbro by Jacob Mowder and Brody Mann got Allen to line out to Fabbro again in the 11th.
Vandegrift tossed five innings of relief and allowed two hits, walked four, hit a batter and struck out sixth. Mann pitched a scoreless 11th, allowing a hit, walking a pair of batters and striking out a batter.
“Ben started the game and gave us almost five innings of very good work,” Colburn said. “He got into a couple of jams, like Landon did when he was on the mound, but they both competed and made some huge pitches and also relied on their defense behind them.”
Fabbro and Farmer each singled during extra innings for the Vikings (17-7), who advance to a district semifinal on Tuesday at Grove City, which blanked Logan 12-0 on Wednesday in five innings.