FINDLAY – Columbus Grove got the baseball district championship it came for, but not without a little seventh-inning drama, when it beat McComb 4-3 in the title game of the Division IV district at Findlay’s Marathon Field on Friday.
The Bulldogs (23-7) built a 4-0 lead then watched McComb score three times in the top of the seventh and put the tying run on base with two out before the threat ended with an infield pop up.
Columbus Grove’s district championship is its first since 1982.
The story line of the game for the first six innings was Columbus Grove pitcher Shep Halker stretching his streak of not giving up a hit to 13 innings.
The Bulldogs’ right-hander struck out 11 and didn’t walk a batter. He did not allow a hit until McComb’s Braydon Shoop, the second batter in the seventh inning, singled to rightfield.
“Shep is outstanding every day. At the plate he is really, really good. And every time he is on the mound, I expect us to win. He has shown it the last two starts,” Columbus Grove coach Brayden Sautter said.
“He knows how to pitch. He knows his stuff and how to use it. He’s a dog on the mound every single day. I wouldn’t say I was comfortable the whole time. There were a couple times in the seventh when I got a little uncomfortable. But with Shep on the mound I’m confident we’re going to win,” he said.
Columbus Grove jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two innings. That fast start was fueled by some aggressive base running by the Bulldogs and four McComb errors in those innings, which covered up the fact that the Panthers’ pitcher, Camden Glaser (9 strikeouts, 2 walks, 4 hits allowed) was having a pretty good day, too.
Columbus Grove got its first run in the first inning on what should have been the third out of the inning. Dalton Wurth struck out swinging but the ball got past McComb’s catcher, who then threw too late to first base and Wurth was safe. Meanwhile, Halker scored from second base with a head-first slide.
The Bulldogs got two runs in the second innning when Landon Schroeder was hit by a pitch, Isaac Ricker attempted to sacrifice him to second base, but the throw to first base bounced off Ricker’s helmet. Brock Hoffman later singled to make it 3-0.
“That’s our bread and butter. All year we’ve run the bases really hard and aggressively. Before the game every single day I end our scouting report with, ‘Create chaos.’ That’s what we do. We create chaos on the bases and if the the other team can handle it, good for you. More times than not they can’t,” Sautter said.
Columbus Grove got its fourth run in the fifth inning when Taylor Schroeder doubled to score pinch-runner Evan Sautter.
Halker said, “It’s huge. I don’t remember the last time Columbus Grove had a district championship. I think our class deserves this. We’ve worked really hard. The time has come.
“I was just finding the zone. My curve ball was breaking good. I was throwing that for a strike and when I had them down in the count I would throw something outside of the box and they would chase it. That’s what worked for me today,” he said.
Asked if his last two games might be the best he has pitched in his life, Halker said, “I would say so, yeah, probably.”
Sautter said it was Halker’s game to finish in the seventh inning. “He’s our best pitcher. I trust him. I’m comfortable with him. In every big situation we want him on the mound or in the box.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.