By DAVE HANNEMAN
A year ago, McComb’s baseball team made history.
At Findlay High School’s baseball diamond on Friday, the Panthers made a statement.
Clay Grubb came through with an overpowering four-hit, 16-strikeout effort on the mound and Mitch Schroeder and Clay Dysert powered an offense that twice batted around in an inning as McComb, which won the school’s first-ever district baseball championship last year, made it two in a row by bombing Arlington 13-6 in the Division IV district final.
“We’ve gone from nobody knowing our names to people knowing who we are,” Grubb said. “That’s what winning back-to-back districts can do.”
McComb improved to 22-3 and will face Patrick Henry (20-9) Thursday at 2 p.m. in the Division IV regional semifinals at PH’s Garrold Parrat Field.
Grubb struck out the side in the first inning, struck out three straight batters to end the second inning and open the third, and struck out the side again in the fourth. The 6-foot-5 junior right-hander struggled a bit in fifth when two walks, two bunt singles, an error and Nathan Insley’s solid single to left fueled Arlington’s five run rally.
McComb answered with five runs in the sixth, though, and Grubb was quickly back in form, striking out four batters in the final two innings.
Grubb threw 115 pitches, 78 of them for strikes.
“He pitched a great game. We couldn’t have asked for anything better,” said McComb coach Rob Quiroga.
Fortune favored McComb in the first inning.
Taylor Reardon’s fielders choice grounder erased Schroeder, who led off the inning with a single. But Reardon promptly stole second and scored on Jordan Skilliter’s two-out single.
The Panthers caught a break when Caden Schroeder’s towering pop up dropped barely fair and no more than 10 feet from home plate for a weird infield single. That kept the inning alive long enough for Dysert, who was 3-for-3 in the game with three RBI, to pull a liner down the line to make it 2-0.
McComb had beaten Arlington 6-1 in an April 16 Blanchard Valley Conference game between the two schools. So Quiroga breathed a heavy sigh of relief when the Panthers got a quick jump on the Re Devils once again.
“Playing the same team twice is always difficult,” Quiroga said. “So when we came out and scored those two runs in the first inning, right there I knew this game was going to be our game.”
Grubb’s pitching and two explosive innings made sure of that.
Arlington’s Nick Affholder, a freshman right-hander, rebounded from a shaky first-inning by retiring seven straight batters.
Dysert smoked a triple to the fence in left to open fourth inning, though, and the flood gates opened. Schroeder doubled in two runs and Grubb singled in two more as McComb used big hits to magnify little mistakes by Arlington.
“We had some errors. We had a couple of balls dropped in spots,” said Arlington coach Tom Yates.
“It just seemed that’s when (McComb) would come through with a hard hit. That’s the way it goes sometimes. That’s the game of baseball.”
Grubb had allowed no hits and only two base runners through four innings. But he walked Kyle McDowell and Zac Durliat leading off the fifth and Tyler Starr ended Grubb’s no-hit bid with a perfectly placed bunt single.
Grubb would end up striking out the side. But not before Insley’s two-run single, base hits by Affholder and Tyler Richards and a throwing error trimmed McComb’s 8-0 lead to 8-5.
“We did try to play small-ball that inning, but we didn’t quite get it done” Yates said. “We had a couple of tough innings and we struggled hitting Grubb. That was the bottom line right there.”
McComb batted around again in the sixth with an error and two walks setting the table. Dysert and Schroeder lined two-run singles during the rally and Reardon drove in another.
Mitch Schroeder was 4 for 5 with three singles, a double and four RBI. Dysert had three hits and Skilliter and Caden Schroeder two each.
“Our bats had been kind of silent the last couple of games, but they woke up today,” Quiroga said.
The same thing might be said about McComb’s program.
“Our program is growing,” said Quiroga, who improved his record at the school to 50-20 with Friday’s win. “It’s taken many years to get where we’re at but it’s coming together. The the boys are really into it, and I like to see that.”
Arlington 000 050 1 — 6 4 4
McComb 200 605 x — 13 13 3
WP — Grubb. LP — Affholder. top hitters: (Arl) Insley 1B, 2 RBI; Richards 1B, RBI. (McC) M. Schroeder 3-1B, 2B, 4 RBI; Grubb 1B, 2 RBI; Skilliter 2-1B, 2 RBI; C. Schroeder 2-1B; Dysert 2-1B, 3B, 3 RBI.
records: McComb 22-3, Arlington 20-6.