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Published: Saturday, 5/24/2008

Toledo Christian advances


FINDLAY - Back in the winter, the Toledo Christian Eagles believed they had a baseball roster talented enough to make a run at a regional.

Then, for a variety of reasons, three key players were gone from the team. But seniors Kelly Barnes and Eric Yunker were still around, and they are the biggest reasons for the Eagles reaching their goal.

Yunker drove in his team's only runs and Barnes pitched an absolute dandy as Toledo Christian dispatched Arlington 2-1 last night in a Division IV district final at Findlay.

For the first time since 1994 the Eagles (20-6) will play in the regional tournament when they square off against Van Buren on Thursday. The departures are just a distant memory.

"It's a little bit of a different feeling," catcher Alex Simcox said. "We just took it as a team and refocused ourselves."

Simcox was in the enviable position last night of receiving a masterful pitching performance from Barnes. Employing a mixture of fastballs, change-ups and curveballs, Barnes allowed just five hits over seven innings against an Arlington lineup that includes seven hitters with an average of .360 or higher. It was Barnes' sixth complete game.

"He's a horse," TC coach Ron Rightnowar said.

The outcome was not without suspense in the final inning. Runners manned first and third with two outs when Arlington's No. 9 hitter, Justin Bruley, hit a short pop up to center. Yunker sprinted in and made the catch with little time to spare before throwing his cap in the air to celebrate the victory.

"I didn't think he was going to get that," Barnes said. "But he was fast enough."

Yunker delivered a two-out single to right in the third that scored J.C. Miller and Graham Miller. Only two more Eagles reached based afterward.

The win avenges a 1-0 loss to Arlington in last year's district semifinal.

"I didn't expect either team to get to four or five runs," he said. "I thought it would be a 2-1, 3-2 low scoring game," Rightnowar said.

Part of his reasoning was because of his faith in Barnes. The other part was his respect for Arlington pitcher Trever Gast, who stymied the Eagles throughout. Gast struck out seven, and with the third inning being the exception, he did not allow a runner to reach second base.

"He was just overpowering us with his fastball and he was getting his curveball over the plate," said Barnes, who was 0 for 2 against his counterpart.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com.

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