CHILLICOTHE — It’s tough when the ball doesn’t bounce a team’s way in the game of baseball.
In a Division IV, Southeast I District Semifinal between the Clay Panthers and the Reedsville Eastern Eagles on Monday evening, Clay — who had won 12 of its last 17 contests coming in — performed like a team that had put together a second-half surge.
The Panthers committed just one error in the field — with none of them coming after the first inning. Clay, behind its clean fielding and the pitching efforts of Dakota Dodds and Brody Riffe, only allowed one extra base hit on the day, with Riffe throwing five scoreless innings to close out an excellent defensive performance.
However, Austin Coleman effectively stymied the Panthers’ offensive bats by only allowing four hits in a complete game performance, and Eastern Meigs (15-7), behind its own excellent defensive performance, edged Clay (14-10) by a 2-1 tally as the Panthers’ season came to a close at VA Memorial Stadium.
The final result, however, didn’t dampen Marc Cottle spirits about his team’s performance on Monday evening.
“Anybody could’ve won that game,” Cottle said. “We just couldn’t get that key hit. I give credit to (Austin Coleman). He pitched a whale of a game. (Eastern Meigs’) defense played well. We took a step forward this year. We started a little slow, but we ended up finishing 14-10, and we could’ve easily been 16-8. We’re going to work hard this fall and winter, try to get some weightlifting in, get bigger, stronger, faster, and get back up here.”
Coleman, who proved to be a big factor at the plate and at the dish on Monday, got things started in the first frame by walking and stealing a base. An infield error on a sharply hit groundball allowed Coleman to score as Eastern Meigs took a 1-0 advantage.
However, as Clay units have done throughout the balance of the season, Cottle’s squad didn’t lay down and responded by putting together a run of its own.
After Coleman started off the first frame with a strikeout, Riffe’s walk and a stolen base allowed the senior to advance into scoring position. McGwire Garrison then responded two batters later by driving in Riffe with his RBI base knock to left field, which knotted the game at one apiece.
“That was a big hit,” Cottle said of Garrison’s RBI single in the bottom half of the first inning. “We just couldn’t string together two or three hits in a row. However, Eastern Meigs is a very good team, and we played toe-to-toe with them. Hopefully, we’ll continue to get back to the VA over the next couple of years.”
In the third frame, however, adversity struck the Panthers again, as Coleman led off the inning with a double to the right field gap, and, after a stolen base, scored on John Littlel’s RBI single to left field.
With no outs, Littlel on first, and a run already in, Cottle and Co. made the decision to insert Riffe into the contest.
Despite entering in somewhat of a tough spot, the senior showed the poise and moxie that has made the do-it-all athlete one of Clay’s most valuable hands, as Riffe accumulated two groundouts and a strikeout en route to getting out of the third inning.
The six-foot pitcher continued to show that poise and moxie over the following quartet of frames, as well, as Riffe allowed seven hits but didn’t give up a run over five innings of play.
“I was so proud of how the boys played defensively,” Cottle said. “We made some really good plays defensively. Brody came in and just shut the door. He really pitched well.”
After Drew Hadsell was robbed on a web-gem like play from Eastern Meigs’ Ethan Richmond, Cole Gilliland responded two batters later with a well-hit ball to right center field that rolled all the way to the wall, which allowed the senior to advance all the way to third base on a triple.
However, the threat died as quickly as it came about, as a running miscommunication on ball four to Garrison resulted at a play at the plate where Gilliland was called out at home plate.
And unfortunately, it proved to be all Coleman from that point forward.
Other than a fifth-inning single back up the middle by Hadsell and a throwing error that allowed the second baseman to advance to third with one out in the bottom of the frame — which Coleman got out of by recording a pair of strikeouts — the junior didn’t face much trouble over the remainder of the contest as Eastern Meigs took home the 2-1 victory.
With the loss, Clay will see four key seniors — Gilliland, Hadsell, Riffe, and Grant Hempill — depart the unit. Cottle says that there are many things about the quartet that will be missed — but their leadership as seniors, especially so.
“This is my third year (coaching at Clay),” Cottle said. “They’ve been here since Day One and as a result, they’ve helped us get over the hump as far as getting up here to the districts were concerned. Our goals were to finish in the top three in the SOC and get to the district tournament, and we did that. In the process, we showed that we could compete with the best teams in our district.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7