CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — Eastern’s Austin Coleman — with his bat, his feet and especially his arm — was simply a Monday night menace for the Portsmouth Clay Panthers.
That’s because Coleman crafted a complete-game four-hit 13-strikeout masterpiece, and scored both of the Eagles’ runs, as Eastern captured a 2-1 victory in a Division IV baseball district semifinal inside VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe.
Coleman also walked and doubled in the first and third innings respectively, which directly led to him scoring —and ultimately providing himself with all the run support he needed.
Speaking of support, the junior pitcher had plenty of defensive help behind him, as the Eagles —in escaping some Panther threats — made some terrific plays in the field.
It all added up to a clean, well-played contest in exactly two hours, as Eastern now eyes its 10th district championship in school history.
With the win, the Eagles — with only one senior on the roster in John Little — are now 15-7, and more importantly are playing on Wednesday (May 17) for another district title.
The Eagles will face a familiar foe with Waterford, which mercy-ruled Whiteoak 11-1 in Monday’s other Division IV semifinal at VA Memorial Stadium.
Waterford, which swept the Eagles en route to winning the Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division championship, went a perfect 16-0 in the league.
First pitch is set for 5 p.m. — right back in Chillicothe.
Although Coleman can’t start for the Eagles against Waterford, his performance against the Panthers was memorable.
After allowing an earned run on an RBI-single by McGwire Garrison, Coleman retired the side 1-2-3 in the second and final frames — sandwiched around facing four Panthers apiece in the third thru sixth stanzas.
Of his 13 strikeouts against 28 total batters, he struck out two apiece in the first, second, sixth and seventh —and for all three outs in the fifth.
“I thought Austin (Coleman) did a great job. He got stronger as the game went on. And his pitches came to him, his location and his control of all of his pitches really came to him,” said veteran Eastern coach Brian Bowen. “He was really tough out there.”
But Coleman wasn’t alone — as he stranded five Panther baserunners, including three in scoring position.
After Clay left runners aboard in the first, it fell victim to some dazzling defense by the Eagles after that.
With Eastern ahead 2-1 in the third, second baseman Ethen Richmond reached deep in the hole and behind the bag to get a groundout out with a long throw to first.
Then, after Clay’s Cole Gilliland gapped a two-out triple to right center, Coleman alertly caught Gilliland trying to steal home — as his throw to catcher Kaleb Hill gunned Gilliland down at the plate.
“Defensively, we played outstanding,” said Bowen. “The kids were aggressive, attacked the ball and did well. It’s a good thing that we did, because with 11 hits and only two runs, the offensive side didn’t work out too well.”
Coleman continued his personal defensive onslaught in the fourth and fifth, as he was involved in seven consecutive outs in one stretch.
After Grant Hemphill singled to lead off the fourth, Coleman — on a sprint to his left and diving headfirst into foul territory — caught a bunted ball for the first out.
He then assisted on a groundout right back to him, before striking out the Panthers for the next four outs — and stranding Drew Hangel at third in the fifth, who had singled and advanced on Eastern’s only error.
Coleman did issue four walks, including a pair in the opening inning, but induced a groundout to Richmond at second to get out of that jam with the 1-1 tie.
However, his own drawing of a leadoff walk in the first came back to bite the Panthers for Eastern’s initial run.
Coleman raced to second on a wild pitch, then scored on an infield hit by Hill —combined with Clay’s only error of the game which occurred on the throw to first.
In the third, Coleman doubled to center to lead off, alertly stole third when nobody from Clay covered the bag, and promptly scored on an RBI-single by Little.
Bowen said his club’s early baserunning made a difference.
“Austin scored both runs and we had good baserunning by him in both innings. He was very alert to see what was going on,” he said. “But baserunning has been a strength for us this year. The kids have paid attention to it and are committed to getting better to it that way. We’re constantly trying to find ways to move up instead of sitting and waiting to be moved.”
The Eagles actually amassed 11 hits off a pair of Clay pitchers, and chased starter Dakota Dodds after only 11 batters.
Dodds only worked into the third, allowing the two earned runs on four hits with two walks.
Brody Riffe pitched the final five frames, scattering seven hits but keeping the Eagles off the board with four strikeouts.
Hill had three singles to lead Eastern at the plate, as Little and Owen Arix added two singles apiece.
Richmond, Isaac Nottingham and Josh Brewer collected one single apiece, as Brewer also drew an opening-inning walk.
The Eagles were appearing in the district semifinals for the 12th time in 13 seasons —and the 20th time overall.
Bowen, who won his 250th career game on Monday night, said his squad’s experience at playing in so many district games goes a long way.
“A lot of these kids having been here before, that definitely helps. Some of the kids, this was their first time here (in district tournament) and they can get nervous. But now the kids are not so much intimidated or nervous about this round. They are excited about playing baseball on a beautiful field and in a great setting,” he said.
Clay ended its season at 14-10, while Eastern and Waterford will do battle for the third and final time.
Both teams, a year ago, advanced to the Division IV regional semifinals — with the Eagles going to Springfield and the Wildcats to Lancaster.
On Wednesday, the winner will punch its ticket to Lancaster for the Sweet 16.
Bowen knows Waterford will be a difficult opponent, but his Eagles are indeed up for it.
“Waterford is a tough team,” he said. “They have tough outs in their batting order one thru nine, and they have a lot of great pitching with pitching depth. It’s going to be a big challenge for our kids, but I’m excited for it and I’m sure the kids are excited about it too.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106
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