Tom Usher: Lima Locos’ Pennington goes from infielder to championship closer


Jacob Pennington pitches for the Lima Locos during Tuesday night’s Game 3 of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League championship series against Licking County at Simmons Field.

Jacob Pennington pitches for the Lima Locos during Tuesday night’s Game 3 of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League championship series against Licking County at Simmons Field.


Richard Parrish | The Lima News

Players and others celebrate the Lima Locos winning the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League championship Tuesday night at Simmons Field.

Players and others celebrate the Lima Locos winning the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League championship Tuesday night at Simmons Field.


Richard Parrish | The Lima News

The Lima Locos’ Ryan Smith slides safely into home during Tuesday night’s Game 3 of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League championship series against Licking County at Simmons Field.


Richard Parrish | The Lima News

LIMA — Jacob Pennington was willing to do anything to win a championship.

So the Lima Locos pitcher/infielder from Murray State played first base, third, shortstop and pitched.

In the end, he was on the mound pitching shutout ball over the final four innings in the Great Lakes Collegiate League championship game.

The Locos held off Licking County 5-3 Tuesday in the third and final game of the best-of-three championship series to win the GLCL title at Simmons Field.

The Locos won the championship series two games to one.

Pennington, from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was named the playoffs most valuable player for his two dominating outings in the playoffs.

“It’s unbelievable,” Pennington said. “It’s absolutely unbelievable.’’

On Tuesday in Game 3, Pennington came on to start the sixth inning for starter Jared Rine with the Locos holding a 5-3 lead.

Pennington pounded the strike zone with his fastball and breaking ball the final four innings. He gave up no runs on two hits.

He struck out eight, walked one and earned the save.

For the semifinal series and championship series, Pennington went 1-0 with one save and a 0.84 ERA. In two games, over 10 2/3 innings, he gave up one run on six hits. He struck out 19 and walked three.

And consider that while Pennington came to Lima as an infielder/pitcher, he spent the first half of the summer bouncing from spot to spot across the Locos’ infield.

The Locos also had a deep pitching staff early in the summer.

So Pennington started the year playing first base.

The Locos then were hit with injuries around the infield in June when All-Star infielder Alexei Cazarin broke a bone in his hand. Shortstop Ryan Smith suffered a hamstring injury.

Pennington then found himself on a shuttle between first, third and short.

“Our infielders weren’t healthy, so with that, it took me away from the pitching rotation,” Pennington said. “Then when we had more guys come in, step up and become more healthy (in the infield), it allowed me to fit more in that pitching role. It all took off from there.’’

Pennington made his first appearance on the Locos’ mound on June 6 in a 15-2 blowout win against Grand Lake.

But he didn’t appear again on the mound until June 29, when gave up one run in three innings.

By July, the Locos’ pitching staff began to thin out like an aging man’s receding hairline.

The staff was hit by a shopping list of issues, including injuries, pitchers reaching their college innings limits and some just packing their bags and heading home.

Enter Pennington.

Pennington made four appearances in July and finished the regular season with a 3.29 ERA in six games. He struck out 19 in 17 innings.

At the plate, he hit .241 with four doubles and two home runs. He had eight RBI.

Down the stretch, Pennington shook off his pitching rust and quickly gained the trust of Locos coach Matt Furuto.

“Pennington was unbelievable,” Furuto said. “He started as a position player, then he turned into a guy who could shut anything down. To pick up an arm like that late, you can’t ask for much more. And he’s a great competitor and he works so hard, he deserves that.’’

Then, right before July 16 All-Star game, set-up man/closer Kyler Seemann (UNOH) suffered a torn ACL in his knee.

The day after the All-Star game, No. 1 pitcher and All-Star Cole Reeves (Dallas Baptist) went home for good to have his wisdom teeth removed.

Reliever Tyshaun Chapman (UNOH) took his 92 mph fastball and signed a minor league contract with the Kansas City Royals. He reported to Arizona.

And with Pennington gaining confidence and throwing strikes, he was the first person the Locos called on out of the bullpen in Game 1 of the semifinal series against Muskegon.

In that game, the Locos fell behind 5-2 in the third inning.

Pennington came on in the third and immediately stopped the Clippers’ bats. He pitched 6 2/3 innings, giving up one run on four hits. He struck out 11.

He was dominate in his 102 pitches of work.

Guiding the Locos through the waves of emotion and adversity was first-year coach Furuto. He’s a former Locos player and former Locos assistant coach from Birmingham, Ala.

“I just told them to relax and play the game we’ve been playing all summer,” Furuto said. “This group has been real special to me. Each and every day it’s been a pleasure to be here and they’ve always brought a lot of energy. They found a way and it’s just awesome.’’

Pennington was the perfect player to win the playoffs MVP.

Like many of the Locos, he came to the park every day and performed his role.

But for Pennington, that role morphed from first baseman, to third baseman to shortstop to closer in the championship game.

And his ability to adjust on the fly was a huge reason the Locos hoisted their sixth GLCL championship (1993, 2004, 2011, 2015, 2017, 2019).

Jacob Pennington pitches for the Lima Locos during Tuesday night’s Game 3 of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League championship series against Licking County at Simmons Field.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2019/07/web1_Locos-Victory-011.jpgJacob Pennington pitches for the Lima Locos during Tuesday night’s Game 3 of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League championship series against Licking County at Simmons Field. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
Players and others celebrate the Lima Locos winning the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League championship Tuesday night at Simmons Field.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2019/07/web1_Locos-Victory-001.jpgPlayers and others celebrate the Lima Locos winning the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League championship Tuesday night at Simmons Field. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
The Lima Locos’ Ryan Smith slides safely into home during Tuesday night’s Game 3 of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League championship series against Licking County at Simmons Field.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2019/07/web1_Locos-Victory-009.jpgThe Lima Locos’ Ryan Smith slides safely into home during Tuesday night’s Game 3 of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League championship series against Licking County at Simmons Field. Richard Parrish | The Lima News

Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.

Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.

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