ROSEMOUNT — Most times, more often than not in fact, the original is superior to the sequel.
With Clay and Ironton St. Joseph — the last-remaining Southern Ohio Conference Division I baseball undefeateds and league leaders — set up originally to play on back-to-back days with Wednesday’s bout taking place at Clay High School, it was important for the Panthers to put themselves in position for no worse than a split.
And while Thursday’s return tilt, as of Thursday afternoon, was still scheduled to take place in Ironton — Clay captured its critical first meeting against the Flyers, scoring all nine of its runs within the opening three innings en route to tripling up St. Joseph 9-3.
Wednesday’s win, and by a razor-thin margin of getting that third and final out in the seventh inning before a downpour in Rosemount, raised the Panthers’ record to 12-5 —and to a perfect 9-0 in the SOC I where they took over sole possession of the division by themselves.
But along with the Flyers, the Panthers must also contend with Symmes Valley, as Clay claimed an 11-6 win in its first meeting against the Vikings —with Monday’s matchup at Symmes Valley getting suspended due to darkness after seven innings.
The Panthers and Vikings are tied at 4-4 in the eighth, and must complete that contest at a later date —which has yet to be determined.
As for the Flyers, playing their first game since last Friday’s 2-0 SOC I shutout at Notre Dame, they slipped to 10-3 —and are now 7-1 in the league.
Of course, they can gain a split with the Panthers with the second-game triumph, but Clay coach Marc Cottle said he prefers to be in the driver’s seat and getting Wednesday’s win before the thunderstorm hit.
“This gives us an advantage. It puts us in line to win the SOC I championship, which is our number-one team goal. If we can somehow get that win tomorrow (Thursday at St. Joseph), it would definitely put us in the driver’s seat,” said the coach.
The Panthers poured it on early to indeed do just that, as they batted around and scored five first-inning earned runs — with their first six batters all amounting basehits.
Only one of those, by leadoff hitter and senior standout Shaden Malone, was a double —as he later scored on a Jackson Rowe wild pitch.
In the third, and after the Flyers forged the first of their three unearned runs, Clay sent eight batters to the plate —and this time scored four runs on three hits and the first of two Flyer errors.
With a 9-1 advantage after three, the moundman Malone —after a 50-pitch relief appearance on Monday at Symmes Valley —made it hold up and bore down.
In allowing no earned runs as the Panthers did make five errors behind him, St. Joseph only scored single runs in the third, fifth and finally seventh stanzas.
He did allow seven hits with three walks and two hit batsmen, but he struck out eight —and faced the minimum three Flyers in innings one and five.
Clay overcame its five errors but making some key defensive plays, including catching the game’s leadoff runner stealing second, Malone managing a pickoff play at first in the fifth, and turning two double plays.
The first of turning two was a 6-4-3 in the fifth frame, as the second — a flyball to centerfield for the second out in the seventh —ended up doubling up the Flyer off first base to end the game.
Malone stranded 10 Flyers for the entire bout — including on the corners in the second, at second and third in both the third and the fourth, and the bases loaded in the sixth.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Shaden. He pitched 50 pitches on Monday at Symmes Valley, so he was only on one’s day rest out there today. He comes out and throws seven innings with no earned runs. He really battled the whole night, and even though we made some errors behind him, he still stayed positive and got us out of some situations and eventually ended the game. He had a pickoff, we had two double plays,” said Cottle. “St. Joe is a good team that is ranked high in the state (in Division IV), but Shaden really gutted it out and pitched very well.”
Malone also did damage to the Flyers from the dish, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored and a pair of stolen bases.
Following his leadoff double and the Panthers’ opening run, he made it 6-1 in the third when he line-drove Rowe and knocked the Flyer ace off his feet — as the at-bat was scored a hit as Greg Gleason, who reached on a bunt that resulted in an unsuccessful fielder’s choice combined with a Rowe throwing error, crossed the plate.
Malone then singled to right field in the fifth, as the Panthers piled up 11 hits and three walks and all nine earned runs off Rowe.
“Shaden was definitely the star of the game,” said Cottle.
However, he had plenty of help.
Malone doubled, then Clay Cottle, Jaden Jesse, Evan Woods, Carson Porginski and Mitchell King clubbed five consecutive singles to the outfield —as Cottle, Jesse and Woods scored runs with Jesse, Porginski and King collecting RBIs.
With Malone already in on the wild pitch for the opening run, the Panthers pulled off a double steal with Porginski and King —with Porginski scoring the closing counter of the five-run lidlifter.
“By us jumping out right off the bat for five runs, I think that was the difference in the game,” said Coach Cottle. “Those top six guys really attacked the baseball.”
But Clay wasn’t finished.
After Gleason scored for the 6-1 lead —and with Drew Zuefle (fielder’s choice), Malone (infield hit) and Cottle (walk) all aboard the bases —Jesse dropped a single into shallow right field that certainly spelled trouble for the Flyers, and cleared the basepaths for the Panthers.
Both Jesse and King conked two hits apiece, as King actually led off the four-run third with a single —and Zuefle singled to lead off the fifth.
Jesse and Woods walked back-to-back with two outs in the second, and Cottle who walked in the third was also plunked by a Rowe offering.
That actually sparked some testiness between the two teams and their fans, as the game did finish without any other incidents —and before the skies let loose.
So yes, if you’re a Panther supporter asking, the original is already at least better than the sequel —which was set to take place on Thursday with St. Joseph playing host.
“We typical don’t do that with our league schedule, but we agreed to do that with St. Joe a while back just for this year. It’s not the ideal situation, but we’ll see what happens tomorrow (April 29),” said Coach Cottle. “St. Joe is a good baseball team, and we’ll be in for another battle with them.”
* * *
St. Joe 001 100 1 — 3 7 2
Clay 504 000 X —9 11 5
ISJ: Jackson Rowe 6IP, 9R, 9ER, 11H, 1HB, 3BB, 3K, 35BF
Clay: Shaden Malone 7IP, 3R, 0ER, 7H, 2HB, 3BB, 8K, 34BF
W — Shaden Malone; L —Jackson Rowe
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved