Warren Champion scores in top of 7th, holds on for 2-1 win
COLUMBUS — Clear Fork pitcher Mitch Dulin tossed another great game for the Colts Thursday.
But for the first time since the tournament season stared, the Colts’ opponents one-upped them on the mound.
Warren Champion scored in the top of the seventh inning for a 2-1 win in a Division III state tournament semifinal at Huntington Park.
After a scoreless first inning, Champion scored. Clear Fork knotted the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the third inning when Hunter Auck scored on Hunter Boyer’s two-out single. Auck led off the inning with a single and sent to second on Thomas Staab’s fielders choice.
Neither team scored again until the top of the seventh.
Champion’s Noah Gradishar came into the contest as a pinch hitter and blooped a single over Jared Lind’s head at second to put the go-ahead runner at first. After Lucas Nasonti struck out, Kyle Forrest walked.
Clear Fork coach Rusty Staab elected for a pitching change. Enter senior Jarod Smith, a side-armed throwing righthander for the Colts, who inherited runners at first and second with just one out. Catcher Michael Turner stepped in for the Flashes and delivered a single to right field.
Originally, the Champion third base coach held Gradishar at third, but when the Colts’ AJ Blubaugh bobbled the throw, Champion sent the runner home and it paid off with a trip to the D-III championship game.
Clear Fork’s season ends at 18-13. But not before a Cinderella-type run through their tournament field.
The regular season concluded for the Clear Fork with a loss to Fredericktown. Then the Colts health and welfare took an upturn. In the tournament, the Colts beat Bucyrus, 3-0; Edison 10-1, and Margaretta 9-2 in the district championship game. In the regional semifinals, Clear Fork defeated Ottawa-Glandorf 2-0 and then shut out Eastwood 10-0 in the title game.
For the second season in a row, the Colts found themselves in the Final Four in the Division III state baseball tournament. Last year, they dropped their semifinal game to Waynedale, and head coach Rusty Staab and his squad were hoping to keep their Cinderella season alive and play for a state title on Saturday morning.
Unfortunately, Warren Champion, the No. 2 ranked team in the state, dashed the Colts’ hopes.
But it wasn’t easy.
In the top of the first, Dulin recorded two quick outs before surrendering a single to the Flashes’ Michael Turner. Champion could not get the run across as left fielder Aaron Williams grounded out to Lind at second to end the visiting half of the first. Clear Fork came up in the bottom of the inning and managed just one baserunner, Luke Clark via a walk issued by Champion hurler Drake Batcho. Batcho gotThomas Staab to fly out to right field. Clark’s walk came between strikeouts by Jared Lind and Hunter Boyer.
Champion led off the top of the second with a double by Batcho, followed by a single from AJ Meyer to put runners at the corners with nobody out. Andrew Russell stepped to the plate and belted a single, scoring Batcho to give the Flashes their early 1-0 lead. Designated hitter Nolan Yartz grounded into a 1-4-3 double-play before Dulin got Justin Taninecz to strike out looking to end the threat. In the bottom of the frame, AJ Blubaugh recorded the first Clear Fork hit, a single. Blubaugh was stranded at first, however, as the Colts were set down in order.
Dulin allowed a double to Kyle Forrest with one out in the third, but Forrest was stranded.
Hunter Auck led off the Clear Fork third with a single and advanced to second base on a Staab fielder’s choice. Lind went down on strikes and Clark drew another walk. Hunter Boyer stepped into the box with runners at first and second with two down and delivered an RBI single to score Auck for the Colts only run of the ballgame. Clark was stranded at third and Boyer at first after Blubaugh went down on strikes to end the inning.
Throughout the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, the two squads would trade base hits, but every batter to reach base stayed there as the defenses tightened up and the pitchers locked in.
In those three innings, Champion had singles by Russell and Lucas Nasonti. In that same time frame, Clear Fork had just one single off of the bat of Staab and Lind reached on a walk.
After Champion took the lead, Clear Fork had one last chance. But Paul Fransisco grounded back to the pitcher, Smith struck out and Auck hit an easy grounded to first base for the final out.
Clear Fork: Dulin- 6.1 innings pitched, 8 hits, 2 runs, 4 strikeouts and 3 walks. Smith- 0.2 innings pitched, 1 hit. Champion: Batcho- 7 innings pitched, 4 hits, 1 run, 9 strikeouts and 3 walks.
Clear Fork: Staab- 1B; Boyer- 1B, RBI; Blubaugh- 1B; Auck- 1B, Run. As a team, the Colts scored one run on four hits, committed two errors and left five runners on base.
Champion: Russell- 2-1B, RBI; Turner- 2-1B; Batcho- 2B, Run; Forrest- 2B; Nasonti- 1B, SB; Meyer- 1B, SB; Gradishar- 1B, R. As a team, the Flashes scored two runs on nine hits, committed no errors and stranded nine baserunners.
Champion will take on defending state champion, the Hiland Hawks, on Saturday at 10 a.m. Hiland held on in eight innings to defeat Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy 2-1 in Thursdays other D-III semifinal. Hiland is 31-0.