Clay’s J.J. Miller forces out St. John’s Nolan Silberhorn at second base in the Eagles’ 4-0 Division I district semifinal victory over the Titans. Clay (11-14) will face Southview (13-12) on Saturday afternoon.
It's safe to say that Clay junior pitching ace Jordan Grosjean has found a second home at Mercy Field.
The Eagles' hard-throwing right-hander is 4-0 at Central Catholic's new field after going eight innings Thursday in a 5-1 Division I district semifinal victory over top-seeded St. John's Jesuit.
Clay broke loose for four runs with two outs in the top of the eighth inning, and Grosjean closed the door in the bottom half to send the Eagles (11-14) to Saturday's 1 p.m. district final against Southview (13-12).
The Cougars advanced by edging Northview 4-3 in the second semifinal.
Grosjean has now beaten host Central in a Three Rivers Athletic Conference game, and bested Start, Bowsher, and St. John's in tourney play, working 30 innings at Mercy Field, allowing 19 hits, five total runs (four earned), while striking out 34 batters and walking just five.
"I love playing out here," Grosjean said. "It's a great facility, and I love that mound. It feels like home.
"I was so excited when we scored [in the eighth], and I just had to go out there and do what I had been doing the whole game -- relying on my infielders and outfielders. I didn't have my best stuff today."
Clay's game-breaking inning began with a one-out single to left by Tyler Brown (2-for-3) to chase Titans lefty starter Joe Robie, who allowed just three hits in 7⅓ innings.
Jimmy Scott relieved Robie, who had thrown 102 pitches, and promptly came down with a cramp in his right [push-off] leg. Scott walked Clay's J.J. Miller and was unable to continue.
Titans sophomore Colin Korte was pressed into relief duty, and he got Bryce Castilleja to hit into a fielder's choice for the second out.
With Lucas Robson batting, the Eagles executed a delayed double steal, but only with some help from St. John's second baseman Dylan Willits, who threw wildly home, allowing Brown to reach home safely for a 2-1 Clay lead.
Robson then capped his impressive 12-pitch at-bat by ripping a double that one-hopped the left-field fence to score Castilleja. Ross Achter followed with an RBI single, took second on the throw, and then scored on Grosjean's single for a 5-1 lead.
"He's just a bulldog," Clay coach Garry Isbell said of Grosjean. "He ranks up there as one of the better pitchers who ever came through here, and there's been a lot of good pitchers that came through Clay."
Southview catcher Daniel Barnes forces out Northview’s Connor Hartnett in the third inning of the Cougars’ 4-3 victory.
St. John's (18-7) had grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, when Jesse Adams led off with a double to left and scored on Nate Pearson's one-out sacrifice fly to center.
Clay tied it in the third sparked by its own leadoff double to left from Brown. Miller's sacrifice bunt sent Brown to third, and Brown later scored after initially being trapped in a rundown on a delayed double-steal attempt.
"We didn't execute on the first-and-third [situations]," St. John's coach Mike O'Reilly said. "We had a particular plan, and we didn't execute the plan. Give Clay credit. They executed."
In the second semifinal, Southview (13-12) got all the scoring that starting pitcher Parker Wall would need in the bottom of the second.
Catcher Daniel Barnes started that rally with a single, and Northview starter Brandyn Hall hit R.J. Fisher with a pitch. Hall walked the next three batters to force in two runs, Jordan Grunberg's fielder's-choice grounder plated the third run, and Chris Estrell's single drove in Tyler Stambaugh to make it 4-0.
"He lost it for one inning," Northview coach Aaron Tullis said of Hall, who yielded just three hits. "He got it back, but then we couldn't score one more run for him."
Wall returned the favor in the Northview third, walking in a pair of runs. Jeff Small and Joey DiPofi sandwiched bunt singles around a walk to Connor Hartnett and, after Wall struck out Tony Mazziotti, Hall and Dalton Carter later drew bases-loaded walks to make it 4-2.
"I was struggling to find the strike zone [in third inning], so getting those extra runs [earlier] kind of propelled me. I found the zone later in the game, which helped me out.
"Not many people understand the intensity of this [rivalry] game. It was a big game, we were all excited for it, and we came out and did a good job."
Northview's other run came in the seventh, when DiPofi reached on an infield single and Mazziotti reached on an error by Cougars shortstop Colin Boerst. Hall's sacrifice fly, a diving catch by Fisher in right field, plated DiPofi, but Mazziotti was eventually stranded at third when Wall fanned Kyle Kremchek.
"Brandyn Hall's a very good pitcher, and he had good stuff today," Southview coach Ed Mouch said. "We only had three hits. But he hadn't been that wild all year, so we were fortunate to come away with a win. We're just happy to advance."
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com 419-724-6461, or on Twitter @JungaBlade.