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In a pair of contrasting City League baseball playoff semifinals Monday at Scott Park, Clay and Central Catholic emerged to create a title game between the past two champions.
Top-seeded Clay, the 2007 champ, advanced by escaping with a 6-5 win over St. John's Jesuit in a wild 10-inning game. The Eagles (16-8) will meet defending champion Central Catholic (11-14) at 6 Tuesday night at Skeldon Stadium.
The Irish advanced by breaking open a close game late in a 5-0 win over regional-bound St. Francis de Sales highlighted by senior pitcher Jason Comte's two-hit shutout.
The first semifinal saw just about every situation a game can produce, and somehow Clay overcame eight errors, some mental mistakes and six runners thrown out on the bases, including four at home plate.
The game was ultimately won by the Eagles' No. 9 hitter, junior center fielder Greg Shanks, who capped a 4-for-6 day at the plate by slamming a bases-loaded one-hopper off the fence in left to bring home Austin Achter.
"We persevered," Clay coach Karl Knierim said. "We battled the whole way. We did some things [wrong] and St. John's did some things. But we came through when we needed to.
"It was a good win. St. John's is an excellent ballclub, and it was a good battle."
Achter had reached on a one-out single, stolen second, and moved to third on an infield single by catcher Jonathon Labuhn, who was 4-for-5.
St. John's coach D.J. Eckhart strategically opted to walk Matt Murray to load the bases, setting the stage for Shanks' heroics.
Shanks' single, the Eagles' 17th hit of the game, gave the win to Drew Kuns, who worked seven innings in relief of Kyle Romstadt.
"That felt good," Shanks said. "I was just trying to get the ball in play and get a runner in. It was a hardfought battle. I got a good piece of the ball and we got the victory."
Clay's eight errors led to four unearned runs for the Titans, who committed three errors themselves and also had a runner called out at the plate. The game had 28 runners left on base (17 by the Eagles).
After Vance Hartke gave St. John's a 5-2 lead in the top of the sixth with a two-run double, Clay scored three runs in the bottom half to forge a tie.
Mike Toth (3-for-6), Matt Wasserman and Labuhn each delivered RBI singles in the sixth off the third of five Titan pitchers, Zachary Gwozdz. Labuhn also made the key defensive play of the game for Clay, backing up a wild throw to first from second baseman Murray in the ninth. When Hartke bolted for second on the error, Labuhn threw him out.
Clay's Murray, Shanks and Labuhn (twice) were all thrown out at home. With a chance to end the game, Shanks was out at home trying to score on a two-out Toth single in the seventh. Labuhn was out trying to score on a bases-loaded, two-out pitch that skipped past Titan catcher Eric Croak. Croak recovered and flipped to pitcher Zach Leffler covering to retire the hard-sliding Labuhn.
St. John's, which had just five hits in the game, beat Clay 8-0 in the Division I district semifinals on Thursday at Skeldon Stadium.
Eckhart had few words after the tough defeat.
"We lost 6 to 5," he said. "That's it."
Central got the only run Comte would need in the fourth inning, when Kenny Heban singled to left and later scored from third on Drew Lehman's well-placed sacrifice bunt.
Ahead just 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth, the Irish broke things open against the Knights' fourth pitcher, Kyle Wilkes, with the bases loaded and two outs.
Pinch hitting for Travis Mielcarek, junior Alex Geis lined a clutch single to center to score Tyler Smith and Nik Tschantz. When Geis headed for second on the throw home, St. Francis catcher Luke Goblirsch threw wildly into center, allowing both Lehman and Geis to score.
"He hit the Pee Wee home run," joked Knights coach Tim Gerken about Geis' four-run single. "Everybody's seen that play before, and you just hope it doesn't happen to you."
Comte then worked a
1-2-3 seventh to close out his two-hit gem, that
included five strikeouts and two walks.
"I felt like I was on today. I had all my best stuff. We've really wanted to do a repeat [as City champions], and I didn't get to pitch at all last year. So I felt this was my time to shine. I had the backup of all my fielders, and then we opened it up in the sixth. That really helped me for the last inning."
Only one St. Francis baserunner advanced past first in the game, that when Goblirsch singled and was stranded at third in the fourth inning.
"He really worked hard in the offseason, and he saved his best for last," Central coach Jeff Mielcarek said. "He was pretty good today.
"Alex Geis took advantage of an opportunity and he delivered. That was a huge break for us. Not only the hit, but then the mistake. That was a big relief."
St. Francis will play Anthony Wayne (19-7) in Thursday's Division I regional semifinals, a game that may be moved from its scheduled location in Shelby closer to Toledo.
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