MARYSVILLE — Apparently West Jefferson’s Shane Gray likes operating in pressure situations.
With the game and his team’s season on the line during a Division III Central District semifinal Monday, the standout stayed cool and calm and helped deliver a 4-1 Roughriders victory over No. 3 seed Centerburg in eight pressure-packed innings of a game played at Marysville High School.
Gray delivered a 2-run double in the top of the eighth, it came after he fouled off four straight balls after starting the count 0-2.
“It was very nerve racking,” Gray said. “I had to battle through. I fought off some pitches outside and he finally gave me fastball down the middle and I hit it hard.”
Cade Brintlinger delivered an RBI single to score the team’s fourth run of the game and third of the eighth inning.
The game didn’t look like it would get to the eighth inning after the Trojans posed a serious threat in the bottom of the seventh. Centerburg’s JJ Davis led off the home half of the seventh with a single.
Expecting a bunt by the next batter, the Roughriders defense was playing in tight. But Gray, the starting pitcher, turned to fire a pickoff attempt to first base. There was no first baseman there to receive the throw and the ball rolled into foul territory, allowing Davis to motor around to third base.
With the winning run on third the ’Riders appeared to be on the ropes. But that’s when momentum changed in a big way. The next batter hit a flyball to West Jeff centerfielder Conner Shields. Shields caught it and fired a strike towards the plate. Catcher Zane Robertson fielded it up the line and attempted to tag the baserunner Davis who had tagged up from third.
Davis attempted to hurdle Robertson to avoid the tag. In doing so he dislodged the ball from Robertson’s grasp and tagged home. The Centerburg bench erupted with jubilation. But the home plate umpire called the runner out for leaving his feet to avoid a tag. So instead of the winning run scoring for the Trojans there were two outs with nobody on base.
“You’re not allowed to leap the defender there to avoid a tag and he obviously left his feet,” West Jeff coach Jason Bogenrife said. “That’s where the out call came but Connor Shields came up and made a play with the game on the line. He made a throw not many kids can make. It was on a line chest high the whole way. What a play.”
Gray was solid on the mound, surrendering just four hits and striking out 12 batters.
The No. 4 Roughriders will play for their first district championship Wednesday, May 17, against top-seeded Fredericktown at a site to be determined. West Jeff hasn’t won a district crown in baseball since 1992.
“It’s everything for us, we talk about it year round,” Bogenrife said. “We talk about winning a league title and winning the district title. We’ve won sectional titles in four of the last five years but have had some tough losses at this point (district semifinal), we got the monkey off our backs and kicked down the door, we’re excited about the opportunity.”
Jonathan Alder 2, Bexley 1
HILLIARD — The Pioneers scored two runs early and made them standup as they downed Bexley 2-1 in a Division II Central District semifinal played Monday at Hilliard Darby.
With the win Alder advances to D-II district championship game Wednesday, May 17, against Bishop Watterson at a site to be determined.
Reach Chris Miles at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.