CHILLICOTHE — “If you don’t score, you can’t win.”
Those were Clay coach Marc Cottle’s words Wednesday evening on the turf of VA Memorial Stadium. His Panthers, who had entered a Division IV district final as a No. 1 seed, had just ended their season at the hands of No. 2 Racine Southern — by an 8-0 final.
And while scoring was certainly an issue, multiple defensive miscues also had a part to do in the loss. Clay (20-9) had more errors than it did hits, a margin that ended at five to four.
“Southern is a very good baseball team. If you don’t score, you can’t win and they pitched a shutout,” Cottle said. “So even if we would’ve played good defense, you’re not going to win if you can’t score.”
Clay’s offense was stymied by Southern’s Will Wickline. The freshman hurler threw 6 ⅔ innings, allowing four hits and striking out seven, while mixing a high-end fastball with off-speed pitches.
“From what I hear, [Wickline] is a freshman and he’s going to be really good,” Cottle said. “He was throwing low 80s and had a decent curve. He limited his mistakes and that team is very well-coached. I give them credit. If we want to get to the next level, we have to be ready to beat a team like that.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Clay starter Shaden Malone wasn’t at all bad. He threw 4 ⅔ innings, surrendered fie hits, struck out four and only gave up one earned run … out of six.
“We kind of went with a different strategy tonight and started a sophomore on the hill,” Cottle said. “Our goal is to keep the opponent off-balance. Shaden, from a pitching standpoint, did his job tonight. We just didn’t back him up on the defensive end.”
The Tornadoes (18-7) scored three runs in the third inning to grab a lead and followed with one one in the fourth, two in the fifth, and one in each of the final two frames.
The district title is the 13th in Southern’s program history and is the first in the last five years.
Clay ends the season with 20 wins, a share of its conference title and a sectional crown.
“I’m proud of the boys. This year, nobody had us winning the SOC championship and we did that,” Cottle said. “But we have to get better. We have to work harder and get better. That’s the goal.”
The Panthers now look to next season, where they’ll return a plethora of experience to the diamond.
“We bring back eight of our 10 starters and that’s the thing. I’ve had this team since they were six or seven years old,” Cottle said. “Next year is supposed to be our year. But you never know. We’re one of the smallest schools in the state of Ohio and we’re competing here. I’m proud of the boys.”
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