ROSEMOUNT – As with quite a few Division IV Sectional Final contests in the Scioto County area, it took one more day than it was supposed to for a Division IV, Southeast I Sectional Final between the Clay Panthers and the East Tartans to take place. But was it ever worth the wait! Clay was able to scratch out
But when it took place on Wednesday evening, boy, was it ever worth the wait.
In a fantastic pitching duel between Clay’s duo of Brody Riffe and Dakota Dodds and the efforts of East’s ace pitcher in Drew Lowe, it was the Panthers of Clay who emerged from the cloud of dust with a 2-1 victory in a thrilling battle between two units who played excellent baseball throughout the duration of the affair.
On the hill, it was only fitting that two of the finest multi-sport athletes to play in the SOC I would prove the crowd in attendance with a thriller. Riffe went five-plus innings, allowing just one run on five hits and tallying eight strikeouts in the winning effort. Lowe, however, was superb even in defeat, as the fellow senior hand threw six full innings of four-hit, two-run baseball while striking out six and only walking a pair of Clay batters for a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
As expected, both coaches had nothing but great things to say about their pitchers.
“Drew threw outstanding,” East head coach Matt Miller said. “Unfortunately, this is his last high school game. He battled all the way through. He wanted it. Even when he got himself into tight situations, he buckled down and took care of business.”
Dodds, who came on in relief of Riffe, threw two innings of near-perfect baseball for the Panthers, picking up the save while striking out four of the seven batters that he faced in the contest.
“I knew I had Dakota (Dodds), the lefty, in the bullpen,” Clay head coach Marc Cottle said. “That kid is a freshman. He’s going to be a good one. He came in with two on and nobody out and got us out of that. I couldn’t be more proud of a freshmen pitcher in my life.”
East showed its continued maturation and improvement in the first inning by tacking on the game’s first run.
After an infield error allowed Tommy Lambert to advance to second base, the next batter up in the order, Lowe, helped his own cause by lacing a single into left field to score Lambert.
Clay, however, came right back by showing the poise of a unit that had won nine out of its last 12 affairs coming into the contest, as after a hit batsman and a sacrifice by Keith Cottle, a RBI single by Dodds — which scored McGwire Garrison — allowed the Panthers to knot the game at one apiece following the second frame of action.
In the third inning, Clay took the lead. A leadoff double by Tanner Richards, a wild pitch, and a RBI groundout from Drew Hadsell allowed Richards to come across as the game’s winning run at the end of the third frame.
Even though the Tartans trailed the remainder of the distance, East certainly made Clay work to obtain the victory. However, the Tartans left eight runners on base — including leaving the bases loaded in the sixth inning when Dodds shut down the work that East had put together earlier in the frame — in the defeat.
“We ended up not being able to get the key hit,” Miller said. “Both teams battled. That’s the type of baseball game you want to see, both teams giving it all they got. Unfortunately, we came out on the shorter end, but I couldn’t be more proud of my kids.”
Wednesday evening’s contest marked the third meeting between the two clubs this season. Clay took the first matchup 5-3 on April 21 and the second meeting with an 11-2 win on April 24.
With Wednesday’s victory, Clay completed the season sweep of the Tartans and won a Sectional Championship in one fellow swoop. They’ll play Reedsville Eastern on Monday evening at 7 p.m. at VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe.
“That’s the goal,” Cottle said. “Win a sectional title, get to the district tournament, and see what happens up at the VA. Hopefully, we can get hot at the plate and have a good game,” Cottle said. “I know that (Reedsville Eastern) is a really good team. They always make a district run. It’s the first time we’ve been up there in a while, but we’ll go up there, give it our all, and see what happens.”
Sadly, this marked the end of the career for Lowe — who was the only senior on East’s 18-player roster for a vastly improved unit in 2017.
However, as far as Miller is concerned, the straight-A student has personal qualities that will carry him far beyond his accomplishments on the baseball, basketball, or football fields.
“Drew is very special,” Miller said. “I have a real close relationship with Drew. I also coach him in the summer. When I took this job, he was one the main reasons I took the job. Because of the relationship that I have with him and the potential of the team, with him being my leader, I knew that we all could turn this program around and get it going in the right direction.”