SHAWNEE TOWNSHIP — Lima Central Catholic began baseball sectional play Saturday hoping to eventually wind up where it finished last season — in the state championship game.
The Thunderbirds got a strong pitching performance from junior Colin Stolly plus a key hit and defensive play by freshman Ethan O’Connor as they edged Bluffton 1-0 in Division III action at Shawnee.
The second game of the day saw Parkway knock off Delphos Jefferson 6-0.
Stolly mixed a solid fastball with a wicked curve to toss a three-hit, nine strike out, one-walk masterpiece against the Pirates.
“I was feeling good today, I was throwing harder than usual and that made the curve more effective,” Stolly said. “O’Connor stepped up today. He knows baseball and kept his poise.”
O’Connor, meanwhile, drove in the only run of the game with a fifth-inning single and then tossed out the potential tying run at the plate in the sixth inning.
“The key is patience when you’re batting; when you get your pitch you must drive it,” O’Connor said. “I tried to make the throw just like in warm-ups, aim low for the tag and it happened to go my way.”
Left-hander Chris McClain of Bluffton matched Stolly pitch-for-pitch and the game was scoreless going to the bottom of the fifth.
Brad Stolly, the LCC catcher, smashed a one-out single and was replaced by courtesy runner Jacob Judy. Judy promptly stole second base and came around to score on a single off the bat of O’Connor to give LCC the 1-0 lead.
Bluffton tried to answer when Austin Bricker led off the sixth inning with a double. McClain then hit a ball that shortstop Nick Watkins went high in the air to nab for the first out and Bricker advanced to third on a wild pitch. Drake Luginbuhl then hit a grounder to third baseman O’Connor, who threw home to catcher Connor Dee for the out.
Stolly struck out the next batter to end the inning and set Bluffton down one-two-three in the seventh to end the game and send the T-Birds on to the sectional finals at 5 p.m. Thursday. They will face number one seed Coldwater.
“They did better one time in a key situation,” Bluffton coach Sam Fruchey said. “It was two good pitchers and two good defenses and one key hit, plus Watkins made a heck of a play. It was probably within a quarter of an inch of going our way.”
LCC improved to 15-10 with the win while Bluffton is knocked out of the tournament with a 9-9 record.
“McClain had us offbalance and Bluffton is a tough match-up for us,” LCC coach John Schnieders said. “He’s a good pitcher and they are a good team. Colin and our defense were both outstanding and then we got the key hit from a freshman, he came through for us.”
Both pitchers were extremely efficient as McClain only threw 62 pitches in the game, 39 for strikes, as LCC hitters went after first pitches. Stolly was also solid as he threw 96 pitches in his seven ining of work, 64 for strikes.
Parkway 6, Delphos Jefferson 0
Parkway pitcher Jordan Stephenson tossed a one-hitter at Delphos Jefferson and the Panthers advance to meet Bath for the sectional championship at 5 p.m. Friday.
Parkway (14-9) got excellent production from the bottom of the batting order and jumped out to a 1-0 lead when number nine hitter Kameron Roehm doubled to lead off the third inning. A ground ball and sacrifice fly moved Roehm around and gave the Panthers a lead they wouldn’t surrender.
“Stephenson threw extremely well, he had great location and was confident and wanted the ball.” Parkway coach Mike Schumm said. “We beat a good Delphos Jefferson team. We had timely hitting and played good defense. You have to play fundamental baseball to win tight games.”
The fourth inning saw the Wildcats have fielding issues as two errors, a balk and three singles from the seven (Cain Pontsler), eight (Stephenson), and nine (Roehm) Parkway hitters gave the Panthers a 4-0 lead.
They would add two sixth inning runs to go up 6-0.
“They did what they had to do and then we helped them a bit after that,” Delphos coach Doug Geary said. “The bottom of their batting order killed us. Give credit to their pitcher, but our offense has been struggling for a while.”
Jefferson (14-11) got their only hit of the game when Ross Thompson singled with one out. Thompson was then erased when Zach Ricker hit into an inning-ending double play.
“I felt really good and had the best control all year,” said Stephenson, whose record is 5-3. “I started them off with curves and then was able to come back with fastballs.”
Bluffton vs. LCC