RACINE, Ohio — After a three-year hiatus, the Tornadoes are headed back to the district tournament.
The second-seeded Southern baseball team won its first Division IV sectional championship since 2013, on Tuesday evening at Star Mill Park, as the Tornadoes rallied from a 3-0 deficit to claim a 4-3 win over seventh-seeded Belpre.
In the top of first inning, Belpre (8-18) pushed three runs across, using four hits, one walk and one error. However, the Golden Eagles only managed four hits over the remainder of the game and only advanced to third base once.
“We played well after that,” second-year SHS head coach Kyle Wickline said of the first inning. “Blake (Johnson) threw a good game, he threw into the fourth. Trey (Pickens) came in because Blake’s pitch total was getting up a little bit and Trey shut the door on them.”
Southern (14-5) was held scoreless for the first four innings, but the Tornadoes certainly had their chances, as four runners were left stranded in scoring position.
The Tornadoes cut Belpre’s lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning, as Pickens drove in Logan Drummer.
Southern pulled within one run with one out in the bottom of the sixth, when Garrett Wolfe singled home Haden Miller. With two outs and the bases loaded, Pickens drew a walk that brought Wolfe around to score, tying the game at three. Southern took the lead on the next at bat, as Billy Harmon singled home Clayton Wood.
“It was a lot of discipline at the plate,” Wickline said of what enabled the hosts to rally back. “I think their pitcher started to get a little tired, and we started to put the ball in play on him. We just kept telling them ‘keep focusing, keep grinding and hopefully we’ll get something to drop,’ and we did.”
The Golden Eagles were retired in order in the top of the seventh, giving Southern the 4-3 victory and the spot in next week’s district tournament.
“This was one of our goals at the beginning of the season,” Wickline said. “These kids have worked hard these last couple of years that I’ve had them, and they’ve been a good bunch of kids.”
The Tornadoes advances to next Tuesday’s district final at Paint Stadium in Chillicothe, and will face the winner of Wednesday’s sectional final between No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 6 Manchester. This is Southern’s 21st sectional championship and SHS has won its last 14 games at the district level.
Pickens earned the pitching victory in three scoreless innings of relief for the Purple and Gold, striking out four batters, hitting one and allowing three hits. Johnson struck out seven batters and walked two, while allowing three runs and five hits in four innings.
Bailey Sprague struck out six and suffered the setback in 6.2 innings for Belpre, allowing four runs on five hits, seven walks and a hit batter. Jesse Collins pitched the final .1 innings, striking out one batter, walking one and allowing one hit.
Dylan Smith led the victors at the plate, going 2-for-2. Drummer doubled once and scored once for the Tornadoes, Wolfe singled once, scored once and drove in one run, while Harmon marked a single and an RBI. Jensen Anderson contributed a single to the winning cause, Pickens added two RBIs, while Wood and Miller both scored once.
Collins and Logan Adams both recorded two hits to lead the Golden Eagles.
SHS committed just one error and left 11 runners on base, while the Orange and Black had zero errors and eight runners stranded.
Southern swept Belpre in the regular season, winning 5-1 at Civitan Park on April 3, and 9-3 at Star Mill Park on April 20.
“Belpre played a great game, I give a lot of credit to Coach Mullen, he does a great job with them.” Wickline said. “Baseball is a crazy game and you have to show up to play and we did tonight. It didn’t look like it the first three-or-four innings, but we got out barrings back, we got ourselves to calm down and we refocused on our goal.”
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.