SOUTH WEBSTER — It is said that persistence pays off.
On Tuesday, it looked like rain would ruin a Division IV, Southeast II Sectional Final contest between the South Webster Jeeps and the Trimble Tomcats.
But in a day that was indicative of their season, South Webster didn’t quit.
With a SOC II slate that didn’t go as smooth as the Jeeps had hoped it would go before the season started, South Webster could have folded up camp.
But they refused to do so.
The rain stopped, Ryan McClintic and a resilient set of coaches and parents got the field ready for play, and Bradley Gee, along with the entire South Webster batting order, got rolling.
Gee responded to the early morning downpour by striking out a dozen Trimble batters while only allowing one hit in five complete innings of work, and Alek Blevins, along with fellow three-sport athlete Shane Zimmerman, went 6-for-7 with four RBI to lead the Jeeps to a 10-0 victory over the Tomcats to eliminate Trimble from the playoffs, end the Tomcats’ streak of five consecutive sectional championships, and advance to VA Memorial Stadium all in one fellow swoop.
For McClintic, the victory was a culmination of his unit’s determination and grit.
“It’s great to get the win,” McClintic said. “Our kids understand all the time that we put in just to get the field ready to play (on Tuesday). We wanted to play. We knew that we were ready, and we didn’t want to wait another day. We had a lot of people, in and out of the program today, that played a part in getting the field ready. The kids knew how important this game was, and they didn’t want to end this season in the manner that their season ended last year (in a 3-2 loss to Belpre in the D-IV, Chillicothe II Sectional Finals). They didn’t want to feel that again, and they took the message to heart (on Tuesday).”
That was evident right away in a first inning that saw Gee and the Jeeps set an early tone for how the contest was going to go.
After a leadoff walk by the senior, a throwover allowed Trimble to advance a runner into scoring position with nobody out. However, Gee forced Ryan Richards into a flyout and struck out the additional pair of batters that he faced in the inning to retire the Tomcats in seamless fashion.
South Webster then responded by exploding at the plate — both early and often. Alek Blevins’ leadoff single and a stolen base by the catcher allowed Shane Zimmerman to drive Blevins in with a well-hit shot to left field. Gee then helped his own cause two batters later by driving Zimmerman in with his RBI base knock to put the Jeeps ahead by a 2-0 tally after an inning of play.
“We wanted to win every inning, offensively and defensively,” McClintic said of his team’s effort. “If we did that, we knew that we would win the game. We came out, executed really well, and did a good job.”
That included Gee, who proved to be incredible following his leadoff walk. In all, the senior threw five complete innings of one-hit baseball while striking out nine out of the last 11 batters that he faced en route to collecting a dozen strikeouts on the evening.
“We’ve asked a lot of Brad this year, and his record hasn’t really reflected how he’s pitched for us,” McClintic said. “He knows that. He’s pitched against all of the top teams on our schedule, including Greenup County (Ky.) (top-15 program in USA Today rankings in 2016) last week, so he’s faced as many good hitters as anyone in this area. We just told him tonight, ‘Be aggressive. Attack the strike zone.’ He did that early and often. He didn’t fool around up there, and he just went right at them. He was spectacular.”
With Gee performing at an A-plus standard on the mound, the South Webster offensive attack faced no trouble as the Jeeps increased its advantage.
After Blake Fulk lined a one-out single into the outfield, Blevins followed by sacrificing Fulk over, and Zimmerman launched his own liner of a shot into the outfield grass, which scored Fulk. Zimmerman, who stole a base to move over into scoring position, was brought home by Trevor Coriell on his base knock to left field, and after driving home Coriell on a RBI double, Gee scored himself on the same play on an infield error as the Jeeps increased their advantage to a 6-0 margin — due to the hard shots that South Webster accumulated at the plate.
“We talked a lot about that this year,” McClintic said of South Webster’s plate approach. “We’re just trying to wait back and simplify things at the plate. It’s all about simplifying our approach and swinging at good pitches. That’s just basic stuff, but that’s baseball. You get in a slump sometimes as far as hitting the ball is concerned, and when you’re not seeing the ball well, you have to get back to the basics. We did that tonight. We were patient, we hit at strikes, and we hit balls hard. We wanted our guys to be patient and hit the top-half of the ball, and we did that. We put the ball in play all night and we made them field the ball. We made some nice plays, and I was really happy with our approach at the plate.”
Even though the rain resumed in the fifth inning, that wasn’t enough to cool down the South Webster bats.
In fact, they only warmed up.
After Troy Boggs led off the inning with a single and a stolen base, Fulk lined a well-hit shot into the outfield, which scored the designated hitter. Then, when the rain picked up, Blevins responded by launching a two-run homer over the left center field fence to put South Webster up by a 9-0 tally to complete a 3-for-3, two-RBI, two-run day at the dish. Zimmerman followed with a single and a stolen base — while advancing to third on the stolen base on an infield error — and after two intentional walks to Coriell and Gee, Jacob Ruth came through with the game-clinching RBI base knock to center field to give the Jeeps a mercy-rule, 10-0 victory.
Zimmerman followed with a single and a stolen base — while advancing to third on the stolen base on an infield error — and after two intentional walks to Coriell and Gee, Jacob Ruth came through with the game-clinching RBI base knock to center field to give the Jeeps a mercy-rule, 10-0 victory.
In completing the resounding victory, Blevins and Zimmerman, along with Fulk, combined to go 8-for-10 with an impressive six runs scored. The senior trio added two doubles, Blevins’ homer, and five RBI to help start the momentum that would never be lost throughout the evening.
“Alek, Blake, and Shane are seniors,” McClintic said. “We expect that. We’ve expected that from them all year long. We told our guys, ‘We haven’t had the consistency or the success that we’ve wanted going into the year. Some unfortunate things have happened. It’s just baseball. Slumps happen.’ I just told them, ‘Hey guys, it’s time for us to catch lightning in a bottle and play our best baseball of the year.’ We have played our best baseball of the year the last two weeks, and Alek, Blake, and Shane are a big reason why. No matter where you’re at, one-through-nine, we expect our hitters to find a way to get on base. Blake did a great job in the nine-hole turning the lineup over to the top of our order, and Alek and Shane were spectacular. They were confident up at the plate, and it was the key to our offense.”
With the victory, South Webster will get a chance to not only play at VA Memorial Stadium in a Division IV, Southeast II District Semifinal, but will likely get to do so against Green, where the Jeeps will get to try to avenge an 8-4 loss to the Bobcats on April 18.
Does it get any better than that?
“No, it doesn’t,” McClintic said. “With the way that our season ended last year where we got upset early, that’s been in these kids’ minds for a long time. Now, we can put that adversity out of our minds because we turned the page. Anything can happen now. We played Green earlier in the year, and they got us. That’s going to be fresh on our minds. We’re going to be ready to play. Our guys are confident, they’re going to be focused, and we just can’t wait to get up to Chillicothe next week.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7