CHILLICOTHE — Apparently, on Saturday night, the baseball gods all were with Connor Bender, Robert Martin, head coach Ryan McClintic — and all of the seventh-seeded South Webster Jeeps.
At first in the eighth inning, with Bender aboard at third base and the Jeeps trying anyway and anyhow to score a single solitary run, McClintic decided to hold Bender —on a Riley Cook ball hit into shallow right field, which was caught by Symmes Valley’s Levi Best.
That was with two outs, and being so shallow for a possible sacrifice fly, McClintic and Bender both thought better of it.
As it turned out, holding Bender became the best managerial move McClintic made —or didn’t make.
That’s because Bender — on the next Jeep at-bat by Cam Carpenter — raced home on a Brayden Webb wild pitch for the Vikings, scoring what resulted was the game’s only run.
McClintic admitted as much as in his postgame media interview.
“I just thought the baseball gods were taking care of us,” he said. “There’s a wild pitch/passed ball there and he (Bender) just goes and gets in there. It’s funny how things work out. Baseball is a funny game. When you feel like you do things right, you get rewarded for them. And we just needed one.”
Because, with the Jeep junior Martin on the pitcher’s mound, the Vikings had little to no chance to answer in the bottom half.
That’s exactly what happened, and the Jeeps certainly celebrated with Martin in the middle, capturing a 1-0 Division IV district semifinal victory on Saturday night —in eight innings and inside a spacious but rainsoaked VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe.
That’s correct, as in the Jeeps’ fifth district semifinal under McClintic, it is arguably their most memorable.
“It’s a very special, very gritty win for us. At the beginning of the year, I don’t think anybody had a whole lot of expectations for this group. Symmes Valley is a very tough team and Webb was awesome all night long. But we really think the competition we play in our league and even out of our league prepares us for times like these,” said McClintic. “We’ve played in a lot of close ballgames this year, a lot of games that have come down to the last inning.”
The very last inning indeed, and an extra inning at that.
With both Martin and Webb wheeling and dealing on the mound, hits and free bases were hard to come by —as Symmes Valley’s only baserunners were an Aiden Hieronimus single in the opening inning, followed by Jeep errors in innings three and four.
But, it wasn’t until the eighth that the Jeeps broke the scoreless tie.
Bender drew a leadoff Webb walk, advanced to second on a wild pitch, and then dashed to third on a Jaren Lower groundout to shortstop.
Cook then lofted a ball into right field, but it was so shallow that Bender didn’t break and go home —as McClintic explained what happened.
“We were going to tag and send Connor there. He is one of the fastest guys on our team and he is super-aggressive. At that point, in a 0-0 ballgame with both pitchers dealing and we had already made a lot of baserunning mistakes early and often tonight, we were going to take a chance,” said the coach. “I think he would have made it if the throw was a little bit offline. But he hesitated and left early and he had to get back to third. By the time he got back, and it (Cook’s ball) was shallow, it was too late for him to get a good jump.”
However, the Jeeps’ universe —in their terms to be honest —unfolded as it should.
Carpenter was up, and into the count Webb threw a wild pitch, as Bender broke for home —sliding safely in.
The Jeeps certainly celebrated in the short term, as Carpenter then drew Webb’s fifth free bases on balls —at which point retiring SVHS coach Chad Renfroe relieved Webb with his high pitch count.
Caden Brammer faced one Jeep to end the top of the eighth, as the sophomore Webb took the hard-luck loss.
Webb walked Gavin Baker to lead off the second, Bender in the fifth, and Lower to lead off the sixth.
He faced 31 batters, struck out eight, as the only run of the game was indeed earned.
The Vikings withstood the four errors they made, as Carpenter singled with two outs in the first — and Baker on a leadoff single in the seventh for the Jeeps’ only two hits.
“We were just trying to make something happen all night long. Just a lot of those situations where we needed a guy to do a job and hit a ball to the correct side. It just didn’t happen at the right time, but we kept putting ourselves in those situations and that’s what we kept saying,” said McClintic. “We’re a confident team, we’re fielding the ball, just keep knocking on the door and eventually it’s going to break down. In the eighth inning, it did. We did a great job of discipline at the plate too, we ran Webb out of the game with pitch count.”
Speaking of pitch count, Martin hit 100 pitches right on the nose for the Jeeps.
He struck out 13 Vikings, including the side in the eighth —and had three strikeouts in the fourth, one of which was a dropped third strike resulting in a South Webster error.
None of the three Viking baserunners advanced beyond first base —and only in the second, third and fourth frames did Martin face four Vikings.
The remainder of the five innings were simple Symmes Valley 1-2-3 plate appearances, as the final 14 Vikings Martin saw never saw the basepaths.
McClintic revealed Martin’s pep talk to his teammates.
“In the sixth or seventh inning, Robert made the comment to the guys to just give him one run. He said ‘Just give me one guys, that’s all I need to take us as far as we need to go.’ If you give Robert run support, he is about as confident a pitcher in his stuff as you will find. And as well as he throws the ball, he’s just a competitor. He wants these spots. He doesn’t shy away from them. The brighter the lights are, the better performance you’re going to get from Robert Martin,” he said. “They (Vikings) had a lot of soft contact, he missed a lot bats, and he had them all out of sorts out there. He threw almost all of his pitches for strikes, he had a lot of quick-pitch innings. He was extremely efficient with his pitch count, following our scouting report on them to a tee. Heckuva performance out of Robert tonight, and his defense did a great job of backing him up. We fielded the ball very cleanly, played excellent defense.”
One thing the Jeeps didn’t do well was run bases, as South Webster was guilty of four outs via running.
The first was a 6-5 fielder’s choice in which Lower was tagged out, Baker was caught in a rundown between first and second in the second, Bender was caught stealing second in the fifth, and most notably a squeeze play failed for the second out in the fourth.
Martin reached and advanced on a Webb error with one out, then went to third on a wild pitch.
But Baker’s bunt attempt on the squeeze sailed directly towards Webb, who was charging off the mound —and who cleanly fielded it and flipped to his catcher Nick Strow.
“We definitely had some baserunning mistakes. I think guys knew the situation, but I don’t know if it was a little bit of nerves. But when you play in a game like this and both pitchers are throwing so well, I think sometimes guys are thinking out there and are trying too much not to make a mistake,” said McClintic. “The squeeze play, we bunted it right back at Webb, but I thought we could have had it if he (Martin) gets a better jump or slides in feet-first. Just a 3-0 count, just trying to make something happen.”
Finally, in the eighth, the now 15-13 Jeeps indeed made something happen —and scored the game’s only run.
McClintic said his squad has become accustomed to winning in the season’s second half —and winning close games late.
“This is a familiar situation for our guys. From the second half of the year, what we’ve done better than the first half is we’ve learned how to win ballgames,” he said. “It took some time, but we’ve learned it, so kudos to our guys.”
The second-seeded Vikings, the Southern Ohio Conference Division I champions as the Jeeps play upwards in schedule in the ultra-challenging SOC II, end their season at 18-4.
It was also the final game for Renfroe, who has skipped the Vikings for the past decade-and-a-half.
“Coach Renfroe from Symmes Valley is a very dear friend of mine. This was his last game coaching and we had a good moment on the field following the game. I have a lot of respect for him and the program he has built there,” said McClintic. “He will be missed in the coaching community, and I hated for it to end for him like that in such a well-played game on both sides.”
But, only club can advance —and that was the Jeeps, to Monday night’s Division IV district championship game at VA Memorial Stadium.
South Webster will play third-seeded Whiteaok, which was also an extra-inning semifinal winner on Saturday — a 7-6 victor in eight innings over sixth-seeded Huntington.
The Jeeps swept the Wildcats in a non-league season-opening doubleheader on March 26 —which was an extremely cold Saturday afternoon, and a day in which most games got canceled.
Two months later, and about 40 degrees warmer, South Webster was playing for a district championship.
“You have two teams that I think are very similar, with small schools and tough kids that love baseball. Two months later from Opening Day, which was good to see what we had, they are a different team and we’re a different team. We know what Whiteoak has and what they can do and what we can do, so it should be another great game,” said McClintic. “Our guys were super-confident. We’re just a very confident and cohesive bunch right now.”
* * *
South Webster 000 000 01 — 1 3 2
Symmes Valley 000 000 00 —0 1 4
SWHS: Robert Martin 8IP, 0R, 0ER, 1H, 0HB, 0BB, 13K, 27BF
SVHS: Brayden Webb 7 2/3IP, 1R, 1ER, 2H, 0HB, 5BB, 8K, 31BF; Caden Brammer 1/3IP, 0R, 0ER, 0H, 0HB, 0BB, 0K, 1BF
W — Robert Martin; L —Brayden Webb
SWHS hitting: Cam Carpenter S BB, Gavin Baker S BB, Connor Bender RS 2BB, Jaren Lower BB
SVHS hitting: Aiden Hieronimus S
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved