Big Red edges Buckeye Local

STEUBENVILLE – Kai McClurg saved the day for Big Red in Saturday’s OVAC Class 4A semifinal bout with Buckeye Local at Vacarro Field.

The junior found a way to slide under the tag of Panther pitcher Austin Marshall in the bottom of the seventh, lifting Fred Heatherington’s crew to a dramatic 6-5 come-from-behind win. The victory sends Big Red into the title game (set for 11 a.m. on Saturday at Vacarro) opposite top-seeded Harrison Central.

Big Red, now 11-6, appeared to have things under control after John Linn delivered a two-run single up the middle in the sixth, putting the hosts up 4-2. Rick DeLuca’s Panthers, however, weren’t quite ready to call it a day.

Buckeye grabbed a 5-4 seventh-inning advantage following Shane Duncan’s bases-loaded triple up the alley in left center. Panther starter Marshall, who went the route on the bump, retired the first Big Red hitter he faced in the home half of the frame.

Cody Saltsman then drew a walk and advanced on McClurg’s sharp base knock to right. Marshall recorded the second out and was one strike away from ending the game. Big Red’s Mason Heatherington, facing a 1-2 count, fouled off several pitches before working Marshall for a free pass to juice the sacks.

Bryan Pierro walked on five pitches to force Saltsman home and knot the score. Duncan’s first pitch to Linn got away from Josh Sokolowski, allowing McClurg to end things with the close call at the plate.

“Kai obviously got a big hit for us in the seventh,” Big Red’s Heatherington said. “Then Mason was down 1-2 and fouled off three pitches before getting a walk. So, we battled and I think that shows the character of our kids.”

Perhaps no Big Red player battled more than freshman lefty Anthony Zorne. He went 6 innings, scattering 12 hits (11 were singles) and recording 10 strikeouts. Zorne worked his way out of jams in the first, third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings.

“Anthony didn’t have great control today but when he had to have pitches, he had them,” Heatherington noted. “You can never tell what the score is when he is pitching. He shows no emotion and that is the sign of a great pitcher on the mound.”

Zorne’s ability to find those pitches he needed led to Buckeye Local stranding 13 runners during the first six frames.

The Panthers had runners at the corners with one down in the first before Zorne recorded two outs. The same thing happened in the third, this time Zorne got a strikeout. Buckeye did finally score in the fourth thanks to an RBI single by Eric Williams. The bases were jammed with one out but again Zorne was up to the challenge.

Two walks and a single by Marshall (he finished with three hits) filled the bases with Panthers again in the fifth. Zorne fanned the next two hitters to end the threat. DeLuca’s club had the sacks juiced a third time in the sixth but was only able to plate a single run (Eric Banal drawing a walk to get the RBI).

“We had tons of guys on base, but just weren’t able to manufacture any runs,” DeLuca stated. “We are a very, very, very good hitting team. We kept saying over and over that Big Red was walking on thin ice the whole game. We just kept missing opportunities.

“I know our guys are upset with what happened in the last inning, but I told them we should have never been in that situation.”

Big Red drew first blood in its half of the opening inning. Pierro drew a lead-off walk, moved to second an errant throw and scored as Justin Corsi lined a two-out seeing-eye single to right. The hosts made it 2-0 in the third. Evan Westlake cranked a two-out, two-strike pitch over the fence in left for his first varsity home run.

After Buckeye tied it at two in the sixth, Big Red responded with a pair. Lucas Herrington rifled a single to right, Mason Heatherington reached on a fielder’s choice and Pierro walked to fill the bases. Linn then delivered his two-run shot up the middle.

The Panthers got going in the seventh thanks to Williams’ single to left. Sokolowski dropped one over Linn’s head for a hit and Chase Hopkins legged one out for an infield single. Duncan then drilled his triple. Marshall walked and Heatherington immediately replaced Zorne with Westlake. The senior recorded a strike out and induced a routine fly to avoid further damage.

“We got out of some key situations,” Heatherington admitted. “They had the bases loaded twice with one out. Anthony battled up, got some strikeouts and got us out of innings. In the last inning, we bring Evan in with one out and he gets us out of the inning.

“Who knows what might have happened if they get a base hit and score two or three more runs. We battled, we never backed down.”

DeLuca, who praised Marshall for throwing “a nice game,” said the seventh inning has been a “good inning for us” all season.

“Big Red is a good team,” he added. “McClurg got that key hit in the seventh and their pitcher was getting bombed, but he hung in there and was able to get strikeouts. That is what you have to do to win games. They did it and we didn’t do enough of it.

“That is a very good team getting on the Buckeye Local bus. Unfortunately, we came up short today.”

Westlake and Pierro each had two hits for Big Red, which hosts Indian Creek Monday.

Marshall, Duncan, Williams and Sokolowski all had multiple-hit games for Buckeye, now 8-10. The Panthers’ game on Monday against Toronto has been canceled. They will visit East Liverpool Tuesday.