By MICHAEL BURWELL
Parkway’s baseball team has had its way with the Blanchard Valley Conference in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division-III baseball tournament.
After beating Van Buren 8-0 on May 10 in a sectional semifinal game, the eighth-seeded Panthers came right back and knocked off BVC-champion and third-seeded Liberty-Benton 4-2 on Saturday to advance to the district semifinals.
Parkway (14-13) will face a familiar foe, Midwest Athletic Conference-rival and five-time state champion Coldwater, at 4:15 p.m. Thursday at Ohio Northern University. Liberty-Benton fell to 19-5.
Liberty-Benton’s shaky start in the top of the first inning put the Eagles behind, with Parkway’s Jensen Riley getting an infield single and Wyatt Felver hitting a bloop single over first baseman Caleb Russell’s head.
A throwing error from third-baseman Parker Lease, followed by a passed ball on the next pitch, brought home two unearned runs. Eagles’ pitcher Alex Harter also took a shot to the nose on a play at the plate on the passed ball, and had to receive medical attention for nearly 10 minutes.
“You get so excited for a home tournament game and a weird first inning where they scored on a couple freakish plays and our pitcher gets cut up in the nose,” Liberty-Benton head coach Scott Arnold said.
“Things settled down, Alex settled down. He did a tremendous job the rest of the way. (We) Just were never able to break through, put a couple hits together.”
Harter racked up eight strikeouts in the first four innings. After a leadoff walk on four pitches to Cody Depweg to lead off the fourth inning, he struck out three of the next four batters to get out of the inning.
“He’s got, I think it’s a slider or something, he’s got a little bit of movement on it and it made us look stupid a couple times,” Parkway head coach Luke Clouse said. “He’s a really good pitcher.”
Parkway got the insurance runs it needed in the fifth inning.
Harter retired the first two batters on a check-swing groundout and a strikeout, but Riley ripped a line shot up the middle to keep the inning alive.
Austin Adams then drilled an RBI triple over center fielder Anthony Webb’s head, and two pitches later, Felver’s RBI single to left gave Parkway a 4-0 lead.
“I think that was big,” Adams said of his RBI triple. “I’ve been struggling a little bit lately but that hit brought us around, it cushioned the lead a little bit.”
Liberty-Benton threatened in the bottom of the sixth inning, with Jared Neiling crushing a one-out double over left fielder Bailey Rodriquez’s head. Two batters later, Harter walked and Josh Ostrander hit an infield single to load the bases, but Wyatt Young struck out on three pitches to end the inning.
Jon Dager’s infield single started the seventh inning for Liberty-Benton, and after a pair of fielder’s choices, Lease walked to put runners on first and third. Neiling and Russell each ripped RBI singles to cut Parkway’s lead to 4-2, and after a pitching change sent Felver to the mound, Harter grounded out on the first pitch to end the game.
“I was nervous,” Clouse said. “I was (getting) a little sweaty palms, but I got a lot of confidence in the guys and they did it.”
Adams picked up the win, pitching 62/3 innings and allowing two earned runs on eight hits while striking out three and walking two. The senior pitcher forced 11 of his 20 outs on ground balls.
“Their pitcher was on,” Arnold said. “We saw him against Van Buren. He’s a very, very good pitcher.
“He hits his spots, he keeps the ball down low. I don’t think we were as aggressive as we’d like to have been early on, getting behind in counts, but credit to him. He pounds the zone and he stays around there.”
Harter, who also took a hard ground ball to his stomach in the second inning, allowed four runs (two earned) on five hits. He struck out 10 and walked three.
“He’s a very unselfish kid, I just wished we could have helped him out a little bit more and got him a few runs because I really think he settled in well,” Arnold said of Harter. “They hit some balls hard, but I think for the most part Alex kept them off-balance and had pretty good command.”
PARKWAY 200 020 0 — 4 6 2
LIBERTY-BENTON 000 000 2 — 2 8 2
WP — A. Adams. LP — Harter. SV — Felver. TOP HITTERS: (Park) Felver 2-1B, RBI; A. Adams 3B, RBI; Riley 2-1B. (L-B) Neiling 2B, 2-1B, RBI; Ostrander & Dager 2-1B; Russell 1B, RBI.
RECORDS: Parkway 14-13, Liberty-Benton 19-5.
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