Although they took decidedly different routes to get there, Clay and St. John’s Jesuit will meet in a Division I district baseball semifinal at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at Mercy Field.
In Wednesday night’s dramatic second sectional final at Mercy, Clay rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh inning, then hung on to edge Springfield 3-2.
In the first sectional final, which had no drama, St. John’s junior ace Nolan Silberhorn led the way on the mound, and at the plate, in a 10-0 win against Waite.
He blanked the Indians on two hits, struck out six, and went 3 for 3 at the plate with a triple and an RBI.
Facing elimination in the top of the seventh inning, Clay (11-10) chased Springfield starter Andrew Case while rallying to take a lead.
Clay’s Ty McAtee (2 for 3) singled to center to start the inning, and Blue Devils coach Dave Whitmire called on shortstop Blake Rudolph to relieve Case.
PHOTO GALLERY: Clay takes down Springfield
Eagles pinch-hitter Chandler Cannon worked the count to 2-2, then fouled off two pitches before delivering an opposite-field double down the left-field line to score pinch-runner Troy Graham, the tying run. Graham had reached second on a balk by Rudolph.
It was the first varsity at-bat for Cannon, a freshman, and the younger brother of Kyle Cannon, who was paralyzed after being hit in a hockey game while playing for the Eagles as a freshman in 2008.
“It felt great,” winning Clay pitcher Jordan Grosjean said of the rally.
“Chandler Cannon came up clutch as a freshman. If we didn’t trust him, he wouldn’t have been there. I knew the team would pull through.”
Clay coach Garry Isbell’s hunch paid off.
“He’s a good hitter, and he’s got a phenomenal refuse-to-lose attitude,” Isbell said of Cannon. “I knew he was the right man for that spot.”
With two outs, Clay went up 3-2 when — after a brief meeting of the two umpires — it was ruled that first baseman Kory Petiniot pulled off the bag on a low, errant throw from third baseman Derek Douglas. That enabled Cannon to score from third.
The rest was up to Grosjean, who held Springfield (15-8) scoreless in the bottom of the seventh. Grosjean (6-0) allowed seven hits and struck out 10 batters. He has 72 strikeouts in 51 innings and an 0.54 ERA this season.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Grosjean said. “We all just hoped that the umpires saw it. It feels great to move on as a senior. We want to go as far in the state run as we can. This is what we’ve worked for.”
Added Isbell: “Jordan stayed the course. When you go through a season especially as dominant as Jordan has been, you’re going to have some off nights. But you’ve got to be able to locate your fastball and breaking ball, and be a pitcher. He was a pitcher tonight.”
Clay’s fourth-inning run came on a one-out double to left from Lucas Robson and a two-out double off the right-field fence from McAtee.
In the bottom of the fourth, Petiniot hit a one-out double to the gap in right-center, and Dawson Shaw hit a two-out RBI single.
In the fifth, Rudolph chopped a ball past Grosjean for an infield single, then advanced to second on a wild pitch to Scott Seymour. When Clay catcher McAtee tried to pick Rudolph off of second, Rudolph broke for third.
The throw from Eagles second baseman Kyle Row skipped past third baseman Bryce Castilleja toward the Springfield dugout, and Rudolph scored the go-ahead run.
St. John’s (14-8) grabbed on a 1-0 lead over Waite in the first on a single by T.J. Lake and an RBI triple by DH Connor Scott.
That proved to be all the scoring St. John’s needed, but the Titans went on to rack up 13 hits and 10 runs off of Waite senior lefty Joshua Murphy in five-plus innings.
“I was happy with the way Nolan pitched,” St. John’s coach Greg Christian said. “They were hitting his fastball in the first inning, and he started going to some off-speed stuff. His best pitch was his changeup.
“Our whole [hitting] approach today was to go to right field. We’ve been working on that, because it’s cost us in about three games this year not hitting in situations where you want to go to the right side. Our kids had a great day at the plate against a pretty good pitcher.”
Silberhorn’s triple, an RBI double from Pete Burkett, and an RBI single from Devon Garcia made it 3-0 in the second inning.
St. John’s added four runs in the fourth, plus two more in the fifth.
Singles from Silberhorn, Burkett, and Lake, and a triple from Jimmy Scott highlighted the fourth-inning rally, and singles from Collin Korte and Silberhorn, along with two errors by Waite (6-17), keyed the Titans’ fifth-inning scoring.
“As a team, we stayed focused, and we saw the results,” Silberhorn said. “It feels good to hit like that because lately I’ve been struggling. I took advantage of my opportunities today.
“I adjusted [pitching] to throw more off-speed pitches. They were struggling against that, so I stayed with what was working. We got the job done and now we’re focusing on the next game.”