By TED RADICK
ELIDA — Patrick Henry’s Kollin Spence tried, without much success, to stifle a smile when talking about pitching with a big lead.
“That was a huge confidence boost. Our offense came through for me today,” he said after the Patriots scored seven runs in the bottom of the first Friday en route to an 11-0 victory over Columbus Grove in a Division IV district final at Elida’s Ed Sandy Field.
Patrick Henry (20-9) advances to next week’s regional on it home field.
The Patriots will play McComb (22-3) at 2 p.m. Thursday in one regional semifinal; Tinora and Toledo Christian square off at 5 p.m. with the winners meeting for a trip to the state tournament at 5 p.m. Friday.
“That really helps, knowing you have a seven-run lead after the first,” Spence said. “It was really nice.”
Even if he had to sit through for an extended time in the bottom of the first as the Patriots sent 11 batters to the plate.
“I tried to say up and walking around, and keep stretching out,” he said. “Any time we can stay in the dugout long, I’ll try and stay stretched out.”
Staked to the big lead, Spence did what pitchers who have one are supposed to do: attack the strike zone and let the defense do the heavy lifting behind him. He needed only 54 pitches to fashion a three-hit shutout.
“The big thing about Kollin is, he threw strikes,” Patrick Henry coach Shawn Sunderman said. “He definitely didn’t have his best stuff out there today, but he battled out there. He never caved in, and he made everybody hit his pitch instead of falling behind.
“He was able to compete, and especially when you get that big lead early he did a great job of throwing strikes and making them earn everything they could.”
Columbus Grove (16-13) was in a bind pitching-wise before the game started. An 11-inning, 4-3 semifinal victory over Miller City on Wednesday left the Bulldogs short of arms.
Grove coach Cory King started sophomore Ryan Verhoff, and the young hurler failed to record an out.
“My worst fears came true,” King said. “Clearly, we started a sophomore that was shaken a little bit there in a district final game.
“That was the best defense I could put on my field, and they found some gaps. We hit some batters and walked some batters, and it’s hard to defend the walk the and the hit batsman.”
After the Bulldogs left two runners stranded in the top of the first, Patrick Henry got right to work. Derek Hoops led off with an infield single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Spence dropped a bunt for a single, and Verhoff hit Joe Nickels with a pitch to load the bases.
Kyler Seemann blooped a hit over second to score a run and knock Verhoff out of the game.
Josh Verhoff went to mound after having thrown five innings of relief on Wednesday. He walked Logan Ziegler and Derek Kolpien to force in runs, and Jake Montana made it 4-0 with an RBI single to center.
“They happened to hit it in a couple of spots where we weren’t, and the floodgates opened early,” King said. “They hit a couple of dinkers, but that’s part of the game. You have to tip your cap to them, they did what they needed to do to move runners and they made plays.”
Another run scored on a wild pitch and Brad Breece’s single to left, coupled with an error by Grove outfielder Reid Stechschulte, made it 7-0.
Patrick Henry extended the lead in the second as Nickles walked, Seemann singled him to third and Ziegler doubled both home.
King then went to Riley Brubaker, who started the game at catcher, and Kolpien singled home Ziegler. Another run scored on an error to give the Patriots an 11-0 lead.
“Hindsight is 20/20, but maybe I should have started Brubaker,” King said. “He’s my best catcher and that’s my best defense, so that was my thought. If they just hit it to a couple of my guys to start the game, maybe it’s a whole different ballgame.”
Sunderman could sympathize.
“We were kind of wondering ourselves who they’d throw,” he said. “What would we do in that situation? I know Cory’s a good coach and he’d have a plan, but sometimes your best-laid plans don’t work.”
Spence, meanwhile, kept throwing strikes. He struck out just one batter, but consistently kept the Grove batters guessing.
“I tried to establish the fastball early on, and it was working today,” he said. “With the curveball, I tried to keep them off balance and it worked, too. I was trying to hit spots, let them hit it and let the defense do the work for me.”
“He threw strikes and he got ahead in the count, and that’s kind of what we didn’t do,” King said. “We were fighting from behind and having to throw fastballs right down the middle all the time, and he’s ahead in the count and he can kind of mix and do things to keep people off balance.
“We were off balance, out on the front foot and popping the ball up. We hit a ton of ground balls to short and third, and those guys are pretty good ballplayers.”
Spence loaded the bases with one out in the top of the fifth, but retired Mason Smith and Tanner Neu on popups to first to end the game.
“I saw the last ball go up in the air, and it was a sigh of relief waiting on it to come down,” Spence said. “I got a little nervous there with the bases loaded, but we had a lead and I trusted my defense behind me.”
Columbus Grove 000 00 — 0 3 2
Patrick Henry 740 0x — 11 10 1
WP — Spence (7-0). LP — R. Verhoff (3-2). top hitters: (CG) Brubaker 2-1B. (PH) Seemann 2-1B, RBI; Ziegler 2B, 3-RBI; Kolpien 1B, 2-RBI; Montana 1B, RBI; Breece 2-1B, RBI.
records: Columbus Grove 16-13; Patrick Henry 20-9.