By DAVE HANNEMAN
McComb baseball coach Rob Quiroga still remembers the game, the score and the circumstances that may best define his identity as a baseball coach.
“I started coaching in 1990, with a team that nobody else wanted to coach ,” Quiroga says.
“There were about 14 boys that weren’t going to get a chance to play so I said, ‘Oh, well, I’ll do it.’
“We got maybe one good pitcher out of the deal. But when McComb I played McComb II that year they only beat us 9-8 and they had to bring in their big studs to do it.
“We actually had the lead until they put their big boys in.”
Quiroga will be playing the “big boys” again today when McComb (22-3) takes on Patrick Henry (20-9) at 2 p.m. in the Division IV regional semifinals at Garrold Parrat Field. Tinora (21-4) and Toledo Christian (19-6) clash in a 5 p.m. semifinal, with the winners returning Friday for the 5 p.m. championship game that will decide who represents Northwest Ohio in the Division IV state tournament.
Quiroga moved on to McComb High School in 2000, serving as junior varsity and volunteer assistant coach. He’s been the Panthers’ varsity coach since 2012, and has guided the program to back-to-back district championships, the first ever at a school known more for its success on the gridiron than the baseball diamond.
The key, Quiroga says, is keeping it light.
“We’re having fun out there,” Quiroga said. “We told the kids, ‘Hey, there are only 16 (Division IV) teams still playing and we’re one of those 16, so we might as well enjoy it.
“The kids are playing well together. There’s a good vibe out there. Amongst the coaches, we talked about keeping them focused and not taking things too seriously, to relax and just go with it.”
Patrick Henry also has a great football history. But the Henry County School has a rich tradition in baseball that includes two major leaguers (Rich Reese, Marc Krauss) among its alums and two state championships (2008, 2009) in the trophy case.
The kicker to Thursday’s semifinal, history and tradition notwithstanding, is that McComb has not only the better record heading into the matchup, but already owns a 7-6 win over Patrick Henry in a regular season game between the schools.
Sixth-year Patrick Henry coach Shawn Sunderman, who achieved his 100th career win this season, expects another close contest with a fundamentally sound McComb team.
“I expect them to make us earn every run we can and I think it will be a very tight, low scoring game,” Sunderman said.
“McComb is a well-coached team. When we played them in the regular season, they made all the routine plays and their second baseman (Taylor Reardon) made two outstanding plays. Both teams are the same in that we do not have a lot of talented athletes that make people say ‘wow’ but we both have groups of kids that play the game well and play it together.”
Senior shortstop Mitch Schroeder, hitting .438 with a team-high 24 RBI, is one of McComb’s top players, along with senior outfielder Clay Dysert (.350, 11 RBI), Reardon (.294, 3 HR, 18 RBI), junior Clay Grubb (.305, 17 RBI), senior third baseman Travis Clark (.295, 15 RBI) and senior catcher Logan Meares.
Andrew Adams (.310, 11 RBI), Jordan Skilliter (.382, 8 RBI) and Dakota LaRue (.233, 5 RBI) also contribute to an offense that can pressure a defense because of its speed on the base paths. Mitch Schroeder is 36 for 39 in stolen bases, Grubb 26 for 26 and Reardon 18 for 18. As a team the Panthers have swiped 144 bases this season.
Quiroga has also gotten excellent results from two freshmen, designated hitter Caden Schroeder (.436, 16 RBI) and pitcher Malachi Abbott (9-0, 1.43 ERA).
Abbott was the winning pitcher in McComb’s regular-season win over Patrick Henry, and got the decision in a 2-1 district semfinal win over Arcadia. Grubb (4-1) allowed just four hits and struck out 16 in a 13-6 district final win over Arlington. The 6-foot-5 right-hander has struck out 86 batters in 552/3 innings.
Seniors Josh Petersen (6-1, 1.40 ERA, 60 strikeouts) and Kollin Spence (7-0, 2.75 ERA, 24 Ks) headline Patrick Henry’s pitching staff that has allowed just one unearned run in three tournament games.
Joey Nickels (.417, 25 RBI), Petersen (.329), Kyler Seemann (.321), Spence (.319, 20 RBI), Logan Ziegler (.309) and Brad Breece (.308) spearhead a balanced lineup that has molded a .306 team batting average. The Patriots have hit just two home runs in 29 games, but nine players have 10 or more RBI.
“This year has been a great year in that everyone has stepped up to make a big contribution at an important time in the game,” Sunderman said.
“We just have to do what we have done all year. The NWOAL (Northwest Ohio Athletic League) schedule always gets us ready for the tournament. This year is no different as we’ve seen almost everyone’s number No. 1 pitcher. Even in our non-league games, we were seeing a lot of No. 1s or No. 2s.
“The big thing is to try and not let the moment get too big. If we make a big play, we need to build on it. If a great play is made on us, we need to relax and remember to play the game one pitch at a time.”
By DAVE HANNEMAN