CHILLICOTHE — For the South Webster High School baseball team, no doubt its future is indeed bright —based upon its underclassmen representation of seven freshmen and three sophomores.
Still, there is definitely no time like the present day —and the three Jeep seniors saw their time and work of the past three seasons finally pay off on Monday night.
Two of those three, Robert Martin and Jaren Lower, combined for big games defensively and offensively —and the third-seeded Jeeps, on the strength of three third-inning runs and Martin’s mastery on the pitcher’s mound — captured a Southeast District Division IV championship, doubling up the second-seeded Fairfield Lions 4-2 inside spacious VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe.
That’s correct —Martin, Lower and fellow senior Connor Bender broke through to lead the young Jeeps to only their second all-time district championship, following last season’s runner-up effort against Whiteoak.
South Webster raised its record to 18-11, and more importantly captured its first district title since 2017 —as the Jeeps have reached the Division IV district tournament six times (2014, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2022, 2023) under head coach Ryan McClintic.
There was no freshman season for the trio in 2020, canceled by the Ohio High School Athletic Association because of the coronavirus threat.
But that’s the past that can’t be changed, so instead, Martin and McClintic commented on the present.
On Monday night, that indeed was a district championship.
“The last four years, this is exactly what we’ve worked towards. All year, we’ve been saying that we’re the team that’s going to win this,” said the left-handed ace Martin, a second-team all-Ohio Division IV pitcher last season. “How bad did we want this? I think we showed today just how bad we wanted it.”
“It feels great, because this our goal from day one every year. Have a chance to win one of these and get back up to (Lancaster) Beavers Field for the regional. There has been a lot of ups and downs, because we lost five or six guys that were in our lineup last year. We’ve had seven or eight underclassmen in our lineup at times this year, we started four freshmen tonight,” said McClintic. “We have Robert (Martin) and Jaren (Lower) at the top of our (pitching) rotation, two senior left-handers who are the heart and soul of our team along with Connor Bender, but these young guys, for them to come out on this stage and play the way they have and impact this game and our whole season, it shows you how much our team has grown up as the season has gone on.”
Monday’s matchup was actually the second this season between the Jeeps and now 19-5 and finished Fairfield, as Martin no-hit the Lions en route to a 9-0 non-league shutout —back on April 10, and at VA Memorial Stadium.
But the Lions didn’t pitch their ace on that night —as Gabe Fouch matched Martin for a complete-game effort in the district final.
Their numbers nearly matched on Monday —as Fouch threw to 29 batters with four runs and three earned, along with no hit batters, no wild pitches, two walks, five hits and 11 strikeouts.
But Martin was slightly better, allowing two runs with one earned on one hit batter, two walks and four hits.
Martin, despite three wild pitches, faced the Lion lineup three times through —and struck out a dozen.
That included retiring the Lions 1-2-3 in innings one and three, seeing the minimum three in the second and fourth, and only facing four batters each in the fifth and seventh.
Martin teamed with Bender to pick off Cade Miller after he singled in the second, and thwarted a Fairfield squeeze play in the sixth —as Fouch doubled to center to lead off, but was thrown out at home with catcher Brody Perkins putting the tag on off Martin’s alert throw.
The squeeze failed for Fairfield, and the Jeeps maintained the 4-2 lead.
In the seventh, Martin hit Noah Allering — as Allering advanced to second on Martin’s third and final wild pitch.
But Martin responded, and struck out the final two Lions for strikeouts 11 and 12 —thus ending the game and clinching South Webster’s coveted district title.
Martin, meandering around the mound once the final out was recorded as his teammates soon mobbed him in celebration, appeared emotional.
He discussed what he needed to do this time around —compared to his dominance of Fairfield from the regular season.
“Some points tonight I was on, some points tonight I was off, but that showed I had to pull myself out of some jams. That’s the second time this team has seen me, and their plate discipline was a lot better tonight,” said Martin. “The first game, I threw off-speed in the dirt or off-speed out of the zone, and they were swinging. Today they weren’t. I had to come into the zone and force them to swing at pitches I wanted them to swing at.”
McClintic said Martin — whose fastball tops out in the mid-80s for miles per hour — has earned a nickname, but he has definitely earned it.
“We call him ‘Big Game Bobby’ because he is never rattled. People often ask me what is Robert Martin’s best attribute. His best attribute is he is just a gamer. I don’t care what the situation is, what is at stake. You give him the baseball, he’s going to give you a chance to win. Someway, somehow. People talk about his fastball and his pitching repertoire and how fast he throws, but I think he is just a winner out there and a gamer with guts,” said the coach. “He has been a baseball-only athlete his whole life. He literally lives and breathes baseball 12 months out of the year, 365 days. I’m glad we got to hand the ball to him tonight. Once we got the lead, we knew as long as we stayed solid, he was going to give us a chance to win.”
Martin did more than his fair share, but so did Lower.
The fellow lefty Lower pitched a complete-game three-hitter with three walks and nine strikeouts in the Jeeps’ 6-2 semifinal win over Meigs Eastern on Saturday night, then had the biggest hit —and arguably the most important run —in Monday night’s final.
In the Jeep third, and with one out, Tristan Belford reached on a walk —and Bender’s bunt resulted in an infield hit.
With two outs, Lower landed a triple off Fouch to left field, bringing Bender and pinch runner Dylan Shupert around — and in.
Lower then raced home on a passed ball, making it 3-0 within a blink of an eye.
“Jaren Lower, what a district tournament that senior has had. The pitching performance the other night (Saturday in district semifinal vs. Meigs Eastern) and then having the hit that breaks open the scoring tonight, absolutely huge. Then he scores on a passed ball,” said McClintic.
But Lower wasn’t the only Jeep to triple.
In the sixth, freshman Jacob McGraw mashed a Fouch offering to left center —as Brycin McClintic reached on a 5-2-5-1 fielder’s choice that erased McGraw between third and home.
But McClintic made it to second, and then scored on Brody Perkins’ single to center for the insurance marker.
Of the Jeeps’ five hits, Perkins posted a pair —the other a one-out single in the fourth.
“Jacob’s hit was huge because they got it back to within one (3-2) and they had all the momentum. His hit gave us new life, then Brody Perkins gets the clutch hit to bring that fourth run in. We really needed that then and there,” said Coach McClintic. “We weathered the storm, and didn’t let our mistakes turn into huge mistakes.”
The mentor McClintic was referring to the Lions’ fourth inning —when they combined for two runs on walks to Fouch and Dow Moon, Wyatt Willey reaching on South Webster’s only error to cross Fouch, and Landry Halton hitting a single that scored Moon.
Martin’s seventh strikeout stranded Halton and Willey, while Moon reached on an infield hit in the fifth and went to second on a wild pitch —but Martin’s ninth ‘K’ ended that threat.
Martin left four Lions aboard, compared to three from Fouch.
Hunter Barnard, on a walk and stolen base in the first followed by reaching on an error in the fifth, was Webster’s only other baserunner.
The Jeeps, following Monday night’s contest, were set to have 10 total days before their next game —the Division IV Region 15 semifinal vs. Hiland.
Hiland won the East District championship on Wednesday night, defeating fellow district power Toronto for that crown.
The Jeeps and Hawks face off on Thursday (June 1) in Lancaster —with first pitch set for 2 p.m. at beautiful Beavers Field.
South Webster’s skipper and standout pitcher are indeed looking forward to another week — and possibly plus — of baseball.
“These next 10 days are going to be a lot of fun, because we’re expecting to get a lot better as a team and come together even more. I’m just excited about all the days of practice. We’ll be doing a lot of different things, trying to make sure we are ready to go on June 1,” said McClintic. “We’re going to give it our best shot in this regional, battle for seven innings each game and see what happens.”
“Another week of my senior season,” added Martin. “So I am excited about it.”
* * *
South Webster 003 001 0 —4 5 1
Fairfield 000 200 0 —2 4 2
SWHS: Robert Martin 7IP, 2R, 1ER, 1HB, 2BB, 4H, 3WP, 12K, 27BF
FHS: Gabe Fouch 7IP, 4R, 3ER, 0HB, 2BB, 5H, 0WP, 11K, 29BF
W —Robert Martin; L —Gabe Fouch