IRONTON — Indeed, it’s been an interesting three Thursdays in a row for the Clay High School baseball team.
But for the Panthers, at the end of the day on Thursday, Clay can call itself perfect —as in undefeated through the Southern Ohio Conference Division I gauntlet.
The Panthers — the past three weeks — have had their much-anticipated SOC I rematch against Ironton St. Joseph postponed, completed their suspended conference clash at Symmes Valley which went a marathon 11 innings before the Panthers officially clinched the outright league championship, and then finally played St. Joe again a week later.
The end result, following Thursday’s 4-2 triumph over the host Flyers to complete the season sweep, is that Clay claims an SOC I season in which won 12 games —and didn’t lose any.
Clay’s outright league title is its first since 2003, and the first outright league championship of Marc Cottle’s coaching career.
The Panthers split the SOC I title with Green two years ago —the last OHSAA baseball campaign prior to this spring.
The Flyers, which were tripled up 9-3 in the first meeting against the Panthers on April 28, fell to 15-6 —and a final 8-4 in the division.
In the rematch, Clay scored a single run in the top of the third, then immediately answered a two-run at-bat in the Flyer fifth with a three-run barrage in the top of the sixth.
Both senior ace pitchers tossed complete-game gems, as Clay Cottle got the better of St. Joe’s Jackson Rowe —for the Panthers outhit the Flyers 5-4 and made one fewer error 2-1.
“It was a very good baseball game today, the Rowe boy pitched really well, and we were fortunate to come out with the victory,” said Coach Cottle.
The coach’s son’s strong pitching performance included exactly 102 pitches and 30 total batters, as the two fifth-frame runs were earned.
Cottle walked four along with allowing his four hits, but the big difference in the contest was he struck out a dozen Flyers —and stranded seven on the basepaths.
That included the bases loaded in the bottom of third, as the Panthers took their 1-0 lead in the top half —when Shaden Malone singled with two outs, stole second, and scored when Cottle reached on an error.
Rowe, meanwhile, matched Cottle to a point —throwing 88 pitches and seeing 28 total Panthers.
But only half of Clay’s four runs were earned, as Rowe registered seven strikeouts and did not issue a single walk.
The Flyers found the scoreboard against Cottle in the fifth with two outs — as Jimmy Mahlmeister singled, went to second on passed ball, and Elijah Rowe drove in Mahlmeister with a single of his own.
Rowe then stole second and raced to third on a wild pitch, as Jackson Rowe —who walked twice — drew a pass to put runners on the corners.
Blake Stuntebeck then singled and scored Elijah Rowe for the 2-1 lead, but Clay quickly made it short-lived.
Two of their final three runs ended up unearned, as Malone and Cottle singled — and Jaden Jessee scored Malone with a sacrifice fly.
Then, the Panthers’ four-hole hitter and senior Evan Woods, instead of swinging away, put down a well-executed safety squeeze bunt to cross Cottle and make it 3-2.
Finally, with two outs, Carson Porginski hit a fly ball which was dropped for an error in the outfield —and catcher Mitchell King conked a single to score Porginski for the final run.
The only other basehit by the Flyers was by Michael Mahlmeister.
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