By DAVE HANNEMAN
Arlington and McComb, the top-seeded teams in the Division IV tournament at Findlay High, will battle today for the district championship.
But a pair of six-win underdogs made the top dogs earn their spots in the final.
Arlington, seeded second among the 11 teams in the district, rallied to tie the game in both the sixth and seventh innings, then won it on Jordan Freed’s clutch single in the bottom of the eighth in getting past Carey 6-5 in Thursday’s second semifinal.
In the opener, McComb needed to survive a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the sixth inning to edge Arcadia, 2-1.
McComb (21-3) and Arlington (18-5) will square off in a battle of Blanchard Valley Conference teams at 7 p.m. today in the district final. The winner will face either Patrick Henry or Columbus Grove at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Division IV regional semifinals at Patrick Henry.
Arcadia fell to 6-16, Carey to 6-14.
Aggressive right from the get-go, Carey started its game with Arlington with three straight base hits and two stolen bases. Matt Holsinger’s hit, the third of three straight singles, drove in Satchel Strahm and Jonathon Racheter and put the Blue Devils up 2-0.
A two-out walk to Brandon Zechman, another stolen base, and back-to-back RBI singles by Strahm and Racheter made it 4-1 in the second.
“We told the guys all week in practice and we told them on the bus here today, that we’re going to play fast and we’re going to play hard,” said Carey coach Joey Roark.
“We told them, ‘Arlington is 15-5 or something, we’re 6-13 so we’re going to coach and you’re going to play like we have nothing to lose.’
“We’re going to jump on them, be aggressive, steal bases … and if we do that, that’s going to make us dangerous.”
Arlington handled Carey fairly easily in a regular-season matchup. And Tom Yates, who returned from a three-year hiatus to coach Arlington’s baseball team, was afraid that might be a factor.
“We played flat,” Yates said. “We beat them handily the first time and you know kids, they think that’s going to happen again. You know baseball, though. It’s not going to just happen. You have to go out and do it, and they waited until the eighth inning to do it.”
Carey senior right-hander Holsinger was pitching well and the Blue Devils led 4-1 when Arlington came to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Holsinger issued a lead off walk to Justin Rice and one out later walked Zachary Durliat. Tyler Starr brought in one run with a soft liner to right, and, after a sacrifice bunt by No. 9 hitter Nathan Insley, John Solt grounded a single up the middle that tied the game.
Carey went back in front 5-4 in the seventh on a when Holsinger lined a two-out single, stole second and raced home when Steven Yonts punched an RBI single to right.
Arlington rallied again … and quickly.
Two pitches quick to be exact.
Freed hit a grounder up the middle on the first pitch in the bottom of the seventh, and made it to second when Strahm, hurrying to make the play, skipped his throw past first. On the next pitch, senior Tyler Richard belted an RBI double to the gap in left center.
Freed, who had replaced Richards on the mound after Richard beane the first two batters he faced in the fifth, dodged a bullet in the top of the eighth inning, then delivered a lethal blow in the bottom of the inning.
One-out singles by Noah McCartney and Cody Ferguson put Carey in business in the eighth. When the runners moved up on Marcus O’Flaherty’s grounder to first, Freed intentionally walked Strahm to load the bases.
Richeter, 2 for 3 in the game, hit a sharp grounder up the middle. Nick Affholder scooped it up, though, and beat Strahm to the bag for final out.
Strahm, who had replaced Holsinger on the hill to start the eighth, walked two of the first three batters he faced. Freed then laced the first pitch he saw to center for the game-winning hit.
“I was just hoping for a fastball and that’s what he gave me,” Freed said.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to swing at the first pitch or not. But he’d thrown three straight balls to the batter before me (Affholder) so when that first pitch was right there, I decided to swing.”
Carey outhit Arlington 9-7, but the Blue Devils also committed six errors and issued a total of eight walks.
“Four of their last five runs scored because of base on balls or errors, and that’s too many,” Roark said. “We outhit them, but too many walks and not enough routine plays were the downfall in this game.”
Despite the setback, Arcadia coach Derek Uitto was looking at the silver lining of Thursday’s first district semifinal.
“A 2-1 score. No errors. Well-pitched. A walk here, a clutch hit there. That’s what district baseball is supposed to look like,” Uitto said.
“It came down to clutch hits. They hit with guys in scoring position; we couldn’t push that one through. That’s baseball. We told the guys they are only a couple of plays away from playing tomorrow.”
Caden Schroeder, McComb’s freshman designated hitter, came up big for the Panthers. He followed walks to Mitch Schroeder and Jordan Skilliter with an RBI single in the first inning. After Clay Grubb drew a leadoff walk and stole second in the third inning, Schroeder delivered another RBI single, one that proved to be the difference in the game.
“Our freshman designated hitter had some clutch hits at the right time,” said McComb coach Robbie Quiroga. “We hoped we could have done more offensively but I’ll tell you what, their pitcher (Chad Baker) and their team have gotten a lot better since we played them last.”
Malachi Abbott, McComb’s freshman pitcher, was doing pretty well, too. Abbott (9-0) had allowed just one hit through four innings, and survived a two-hit fifth.
A.J. Lentz then singled leading off the sixth for Arcadia, Dylan Conine walked and Hayden Ramsey’s one-out single loaded the bases.
Garrett Enders lined a shot to right, but Dakota LaRue positioned himself well, snared the drive and quickly fired it back in to keep anyone from tagging and scoring. Arcadia did get its lone run when Myles Monday drew a bases-loaded walk, but Abbott fired three strikes past Tristan Love to end the inning.
A 1-2-3 seventh then won it for McComb, which made history last season by winning its first district title.
McCOMB 2, ARCADIA 1
Arcadia 000 001 0 — 1 5 0
McComb 101 000 x — 2 5 0
WP — Abott (9-0). LP — Baker. top hitters: (Arc) MOnday 1B, RI. (McC) C. Schroeder 2-1B, 2 RBI; Clark 2B.
records: Arcadia 6-16, McComb 21-3.
ARLINGTON 6, CAREY 5
Carey 220 000 10 — 5 9 6
Arlington 100 003 11 — 6 7 1
WP — Freed. LP — Strahm. top hitters: (Car) Strahm 2-1BRBI; Racheter 2-1B, RBI; Holsinger 2-1B, 2 RBI; Yontz 1B, RBI, .
records: Carey 6-14, Arlington 18-5.