LIMA – The Great Lakes Collegiate League trophy sat on a table 50 feet from home plate.
But it would take a dominating performance by Locos reliever Jacob Pennington and some clutch hitting for the Lima Locos to be claim the trophy.
The Locos took the lead in the fourth inning and Pennington threw four shutout innings of relief to power the Locos to a 5-3 victory over Licking County in the third and final game of the best-of-three GLCL championship series Tuesday at Simmons Field.
“It’s unbelievable,” Pennington said. “It’s absolutely unbelievable. “We talked before the game that nine out of 10 times we’ll never be back here in this situation. … I’m just glad to celebrate with the guys tonight.’’
In the ninth, up 5-3, Pennington got the first Licking batter on a groundout to short. He then struck out Stephen Krause.
Pennington walked Andrew Eng.
No problem for Pennington, who took a deep breath.
Pennington then struck out Sam Wilson to end it, which set off the dogpile-like celebration behind the mound.
“It’s always nerve wracking,” Pennington said. “It’s just a game. You just have to regroup and have fun.’’
The Locos won the series 2-1.
“I never dogpiled before so that felt good,” Locos center fielder Randon Jernigan said as he clutched the GLCL trophy. “That was awesome.’’
The Locos have won six GLCL championships (1993, 2004, 2011, 2015, 2017 and 2019).
“To get down (2-0) in the first inning was tough, but our guys never gave up,” Locos coach Matt Furuto said. “They could have cashed it in, but these guys have worked hard all summer and for them to get this opportunity is unbelievable. I’m really thankful for all they’ve done. The pitchers did great and the hitters found a way in the big inning to break it open.
“I told them to be who they are and they found a way today.’’
The four-run fourth inning by the Locos gave them the lead to stay 5-2.
Pennington (Murray State) threw the final four innings and gave up no runs on two hits. Using his fastball and breaking ball, he struck out eight and walked one.
Pennington was the playoff’s most valuable player.
In the first game in the semifinal series against Muskegon, Pennington threw 6 2/3 innings of relief to get the win and gave up one run and struck out 11.
For the two playoff series, he threw 10 2/3 innings of relief, gave up one run and struck out 19.
Licking led 2-1 after the first inning.
The Locos charged back with a four-run fourth to pull out to a 5-2 lead.
Licking bounced out to a 2-0 lead after two batters.
Settlers leadoff hitter Turner Hill reached on an error on the Locos shortstop.
Cael Baker (Mississippi) followed and crushed a two-run home run to left to give Licking a 2-0 lead in the first.
The Locos got one back in the home first.
Jernigan led off with a single, took second on a wild pitch and went to third on a stolen base.
Jernigan came home on an RBI single to center by Nick Colina to make it 2-1 Settlers.
“I got to 3-2 and knew the slider was coming,” Colina said. “I almost missed it, but I had just enough to float it (into center field). I knew it was just a matter of time before we opened it up and took the lead for good.
“This is unbelievable. It was special. We had to get to the end game. We got here, we had some adversity on Sunday (a loss), but we knew it’s pretty hard to beat the Locos twice.’’
In the Locos fourth, Colina walked and Trevor Hatton singled. Zach Sweet’s RBI single to deep short tied the game at 2.
That marked the end for Licking starter lefty Liam Devine.
Ryan Smith’s RBI single to center gave the Locos the lead to stay 3-2.
Colton Frank was hit with a pitch.
Xavier Haendiges went the other way with a two-run single to right to give the Locos a 5-2 lead in the fourth.
“He came through in the clutch,” Furuto said of Haendiges.
Eng hit a solo home run to right for the Settlers to get within 5-3 in the fifth.
Locos starter right-hander Jared Rine (Kennesaw State), who spent most of the summer at the back of the bullpen, pitched five strong innings, giving up three runs, two earned, on six hits. He struck out seven and walked five.
Rine threw 109 pitches, 61 for strikes.
“I wanted to give it all I had,” Rine said. “There was no pitch limit for me. I just wanted to attack. By the second inning, I felt good. … When Nick (Colina) drove in
that run in the first inning (to get within 2-1), that was the whole game. Then, we put up a four-spot in the fourth inning and they were done.’’
Added Furuto, “Jared has been our best arm all summer. He pitched great. And Pennington was unbelievable, starting the summer as a position player, then he was a guy who could come in and shut anything down.’’
Licking’s Devine (Monroe CC) went 5-0 with a 0.60 ERA this summer. But on this night, he lasted only 3 1/3 innings and gave up four runs, all earned, on four hits. He struck out six and walked two.
Locos catcher Tyler Tolve, the GLCL player of the year, said the team was a confident group coming into the final game.
“We expect to win,” Tolve said. “We played well all year long. We’ve hit at times. We’ve run, we’ve fielded, we’ve pitched. We’ve had all aspects of the game working. We’ve won each playoff game different ways so it was really special.’’
Locos notes: Licking County has won three GLCL titles (2012, 2013, 2014). Licking County announced it will change its name to the Ohio Bison next summer. It will continue to play at Don Edwards Field in Newark.
The Columbus All-Americans, who are no longer in the GLCL, have won the most GLCL titles with eight.
Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.