CHILLICOTHE — Over the history of the South Webster Jeeps’ baseball program, there have been many units that have come agonizingly close to winning a district title.
Despite those opportunities, however, South Webster had never taken home a Division IV District Championship.
But on Wednesday evening, however, that fact — along with a tough regular season — was officially put to rest, as the Jeeps not only turned the page, but began another chapter in doing so as South Webster took home a 7-2 victory over the Notre Dame Titans in the Division IV, Southeast I District Championship affair to claim the school’s first-ever district title in the sport of baseball.
For Ryan McClintic, it’s a huge accomplishment that took an entire team effort.
“(Winning the district title) was the goal that we set out to obtain at the beginning of the season,” McClintic said. “We’re going to enjoy this tonight. We’ve got a long layoff, and it’s just an accomplishment. You set out a goal to do something that’s never been done before at the beginning of the year, and when you reach it, it feels great. I’m just proud of each and every one of the coaches, players, and everybody that contributed to this.”
However, even though Drew Mader’s unit wasn’t as fortunate, it was hard for the veteran head coach to be disappointed with his unit’s effort.
“One-through-nine, we talk about hitting the ball and putting guys in scoring position,” Mader said. “When we would get guys in scoring position, we would either hit the ball right at them or we wouldn’t hit our pitch. Our guys played hard, that’s just the game of baseball. Trevor Coriell came in and threw a heck of a game, (Shane) Zimmerman comes in and throws a heck of a game and keeps us off balance. Hat’s off to South Webster. They played well, they put the ball in play when they needed to do so, and they threw strikes. They’re a good team.”
In the opening frame of action, both teams didn’t wait to put runs on the board. Even though Sam Kayser’s leadoff single was extinguished by a 1-4 forceout, Cameron Rodriguez more than made up for that. After stealing second base, Tyler Speas came up to the plate with two gone in the top half of the first frame and smacked an RBI double to left field, which put Notre Dame up by a 1-0 tally in the opening half-inning.
But once again, South Webster didn’t flinch under the pressure.
With one swing of the bat, Alek Blevins launched a Speas pitch to left field, which one-hopped all the way to the wall as the speedy catcher made it all the way to third. Shane Zimmerman then wasted no time cashing in on the early opportunity as the senior drove in Blevins with his RBI single, and after two stolen bases by the shortstop, scored himself on a wild pitch to give the Jeeps a 2-1 advantage after an inning of play.
“That’s what we’ve been about here at the end of the season,” McClintic said of the early-inning resiliency. “Someone gets on us early, and we answer right back, which was something that we haven’t done all year long. These guys just have no quit in them right now. They believe. They’re having fun and they believe. For Alek to come back and get things started after we were down 1-0, that was huge for our confidence.”
That certainly showed in the bottom half of the second inning, when South Webster batted around en route to plating additional tallies on the scoreboard.
After a hit by pitch and a single by Gabe Ruth, a brilliant sacrifice bunt by Blake Fulk moved the pair over to second and third, and Blevins walked to load the bases. Zimmerman then followed by coming up large for the second straight inning with a critical base hit to right field that scored both Shonkwiler and Ruth, and Coriell followed with a RBI base knock of his own to score Blevins as South Webster launched out to a 5-1 advantage. Bradley Gee and Troy Boggs capped off the inning by drawing a pair of walks, with Boggs’ free pass scoring Zimmerman, to increase the Jeeps’ lead to a 6-1 margin after two full innings of work.
“Just great contributions again from those guys, like we’ve had for the past four years,” McClintic said of the senior class that spearheaded the rally. “Shane was absolutely fantastic at the plate. He had clutch hit after clutch hit after clutch hit. He was huge and got us going offensively.”
From the third inning forward, the South Webster pitching hands took over.
Led by a strong pitching performance from Coriell — who threw five complete innings of six-hit baseball while striking out five — the Jeeps remained well in control, as Notre Dame was only able to put four batters up at the plate from the second through fourth innings of play.
“As far as Tuesday evening was concerned, we put a lot of pressure on Eastern Meigs from start to finish,” Mader said. “We made the first move and we kept finding ways to put the pressure on and get on the board. (On Wednesday), we made the first move, but we didn’t keep applying the pressure.”
When Notre Dame was able to start a rally on a single by CJ Corns and a RBI base knock by Grant Sparks, Zimmerman rounded out his dandy performance by not allowing a hit over the final two innings of play and only walking one en route to successfully holding the lead — and the decision — for his fellow classmate.
“Trevor pitched a great game,” McClintic said. “Just like last night with Brad (Gee), he didn’t have his best stuff. However, he did a great job of just keeping us in the ballgame and holding the lead. Shane came in, closed the door, and did a fantastic job. He didn’t get rattled at all. It’s nice to have a guy like Shane to look to in relief. When you’re here in the postseason, and you’re playing out here at VA Memorial Stadium in this heat, things are different in the regular season when you are playing every day, and it does change up some things.”
With the victory, South Webster took home its third district championship (boys soccer and volleyball were the additional pair to advance beyond district action) across the 2016-2017 school year. The Jeeps will advance to the Division IV, Region 15 Semifinals in Lancaster, where South Webster will take on the No. 1 seed out of the Southeast II District Bracket in Waterford.
But the Jeeps aren’t just satisfied with making the regional tournament — they want to win it.
“We’ll get back to business tomorrow, and we’ll talk,” McClintic said. “It’s a business trip. We’re here to play baseball as a team, like we have all year, and have fun, but we’re heading up there with one goal in mind, and that is to win the baseball game. A lot of people are going to count us out because Waterford’s been a great team for the last two years, and have really been on top of the Southeast District in Division IV. No one’s probably going to give us a chance, but that’s fine. No one gave us a chance this year. We were the No. 4 seed coming into the tournament, and now, we’re district champs, so we’re going to keep believing, keep playing together, and keep having fun.”
For Notre Dame, the Titans will bid their farewells to three fantastic seniors in Sam Kayser, Grant Sparks, and Trevon Turner. Each of them were multi-sport athletes with Notre Dame — and each of them will be playing a sport at the collegiate level.
“Grant does the little things right,” Mader said. “As the season progressed, he got better and better at seeing and hitting the baseball. He knew what he had to do to be successful, and he really worked hard in practice and in the cage in areas such as tee work and soft toss. He’s a good kid to have around because he listens, he wants to try hard, and he wants to keep everybody motivated. Sam is a heart and soul kind of guy. He gives you every single inch and ounce of energy that he has in his tank. You can always count on him in the end. He’s someone that you always want to stand next to at any point in the game. He played very well on Wednesday. Trevon was a first year senior for me, and I wish that I could’ve had him all the way up through. He blew odds away with how well he played the game. If you take him to Vegas with you, you’re winning something.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7