By MICHAEL BURWELL
MCCOMB — For 62/3 innings, McComb pitcher Clay Grubb was in complete control.
But what he and the Panthers might not have expected was a Vanlue two-out rally in the top of the seventh inning, in which the Wildcats were down to its final strike, to tie their Division IV sectional final baseball game on Wednesday at 3-3 and force extra innings.
McComb regrouped, though, and Andrew Adams’ walk-off bases-loaded RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Panthers a 4-3 win to advance to the district semifinals.
McComb (19-3) will face Arcadia, which knocked off Upper Scioto Valley 14-0, on Wednesday at 4:15 in a Division IV district semifinal at Findlay High School.
“My team’s together, even though they can get caught behind the 8-ball and somehow work their way out of it,” McComb head coach Rob Quiroga said. “They did a nice job by working themselves out of this one and hitting a few hits here, a few hits there.”
Grubb forced two groundouts in his first four pitches to start the seventh inning, and Vanlue’s Austin Smith faced an 0-2 count. But he singled to right field to keep the Wildcats’ hopes alive.
After Smith’s single, which was just the third hit of the game up to that point for Vanlue, Grubb walked the next three batters (Jason Summers, Tyler Wingate and Troy Ritter) to cut McComb’s lead to 3-1, and Grubb was replaced by Mitch Schroeder on the mound.
Down 1-2 in the count, Dominic Crafts, the designated hitter, ripped a 2-run single to left field in Vanlue’s next at-bat and advanced to second on the throw to home plate to tie the game at three.
“We just kept saying ‘win your individual at bats,’ and they did,” Vanlue head coach Bill Summers said. “A couple kids came through with big hits who haven’t hit much lately, so that was a really big inning.”
Schroeder forced a groundout to first by Austin Hord to end the inning, and Caden Schroeder ripped a one-out double down the left-field line for McComb in the bottom of the seventh, but was left stranded.
McComb freshman pitcher Malachi Abbott, who picked up the win to improve his record to 8-0, dominated the final two innings, striking out four batters while not allowing a hit or walk.
Austin Smith, however, was just as effective for Vanlue. He forced two groundouts to end the seventh inning, struck out the side in the eighth and started the ninth by striking out Grubb.
But a single to left field from Jordan Skilliter and Caden Schroeder’s shot that hit off of Smith’s glove gave the Panthers first and second with one out.
A passed ball, which advanced Skilliter to third and Schroeder to second, followed by an intentional walk, loaded the bases. Travis Clark’s popup fell into shortstop Sam Wagner’s glove for the second out, and Adams’ RBI single to right field sealed the district birth for McComb.
Although Grubb struggled on the mound in the seventh inning, he blasted a 2-run home run to right field in the third inning to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead. Taylor Reardon added an RBI single up the middle to score Logan Meares in the sixth inning to give McComb a 3-0 lead.
McComb had more chances to score. The Panthers collected 15 hits but stranded the bases loaded in the third and fourth innings and left 10 runners on base for the game.
“We left too many guys stranded,” Quiroga said. “Just one hit away from opening it up and just couldn’t get it.”
Nick Hagerty pitched the first 61/3 innings for Vanlue, allowing three runs on 11 hits while striking out two batters. He struck out Adams on three pitches to end the third inning and forced Skilliter to lineout into a double play at first base to end the fourth.
Vanlue 000 000 300 — 3 4 0
McComb 002 001 001 — 4 15 0
WP — Abbott (8-0). LP — Smith. top hitters: (Van) Crafts 1B, 2-RBI. (McC) Reardon 2B, 2-1B, RBI; Grubb HR, 2 RBI; C. Schroeder 2B, 2-1B; Adams 1B, RBI.
records: McComb 19-3, Vanlue 5-14.