Ask any high school baseball coach and they’ll tell you the same thing — it’s very hard to beat a conference opponent three times in one season.
That was the task set before the Miami Trace Panthers as they began the 2023 sectional tournament with a home game Monday against the McClain Tigers and held on for a 4-3 victory.
During the regular season Miami Trace beat McClain 12-1 in Greenfield and 3-2 at home.
On Monday, it was a good pitching matchup between McClain’s Haydon Hice and Miami Trace’s Brady Armstrong.
Miami Trace scored two runs in the bottom of the first and maintained that lead until the seventh. McClain scored one run in the top of the sixth and then took a 3-2 lead with two runs in the top of the seventh.
The Panthers responded with two runs in the bottom of the seventh to take the win, 4-3.
Miami Trace improved to 18-6 on the season.
Hice pitched six and one-third innings for McClain, suffering the hard-luck loss. He allowed four hits and four runs (one earned) with three walks and three strikeouts.
Armstrong pitched six innings with five hits and two runs (both earned). He walked three and struck out six.
Gaige Stuckey got the win in relief. He pitched one inning with two hits and one earned run with two walks and one strikeout.
Seth Weller led McClain offensively, going 2 for 4 with a double and one run scored. Jayden Allison was 1 for 4; Andrew Potts was 1 for 2 with two walks and one run scored; Gavin Warren was 1 for 3; Tanner Dalton was 1 for 3 with two RBI and two walks and Eli Douglas pinch-ran and scored for the Tigers.
Weller led off for McClain and hit a double on the second pitch delivered by Armstrong. He was left stranded.
Trace took a 2-0 lead in the bottom half of the inning then the next four innings were scoreless.
McClain stranded a total of 11 runners to six for the Panthers.
In the top of the sixth, the Tigers cut the deficit in half, trailing 2-1.
In the seventh, McClain’s Weller singled off the glove of a leaping Austin Boedeker at shortstop. That ended the outing for Armstrong as the Panthers brought in Stuckey. Hice put down a sacrifice bunt and Weller went to third on a wild pitch. Penwell lifted a sacrifice fly that scored Weller to tie the game. Allison singled and Eli Douglas ran for him. Potts walked and Gavin Warren had an infield hit to load the bases. Tanner Dalton drew a walk to score Douglas to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead.
The Panthers had to score at least one run to keep their season alive as they came to bat in the bottom of the seventh.
Cam Morton led off with a single and Ben Mathews pinch-ran for him. Stuckey singled to the outfield and when the ball got past the fielder, Mathews was able to score to tie the game. Stuckey made it to third on the play. Cooper Enochs hit a ball into the outfield, deep enough for a sacrifice fly that scored Stuckey with the game-winning run.
“Hice is a heck of a pitcher,” Miami Trace coach Rob Smith said. “We’ve had battles (with him) for three years. (McClain) is a solid baseball team. They are very well-coached. I give all the respect in the world to (McClain coach) Kenny (Branscom) and Keith Penwell, their football coach and assistant baseball coach. Their kids play hard. They have a lot of wins where they get in trouble a little bit. It’s probably because they don’t have a lot of pitching depth. They’ve got a nice team.
“Beating a team three times in one year is tough,” Smith said. “Somehow our kids gutted it out after we got behind there.
Branscom had praise for the senior pitcher Hice.
“He’s done exactly what he’s done for four years for me,” Branscom said. “He gets on the mound and he absolutely fights, from start to finish. He keeps us in ball games. His pitch count is typically low, like it was today. Sometimes in baseball the ball just doesn’t fall your way. We made a couple of mistakes trying to get to a ball and keep runners where they were and it ended up costing us in the end. It was a great game, right? Everybody got their money’s worth tonight.”
McClain finished the 2023 season with a record of 10-13-1.
“Overall, we came out of the gate really hot,” Branscom said. “We won four in a row. We had a span where we lost six straight games by a total of eight runs. We just couldn’t get over the hump. We’ve had seven or eight games that we’ve lost by one run. We’ve battled with almost every team we’ve seen this year. I’m really proud of my guys. Everybody here knew Greenfield was on the baseball field today.”
McClain said farewell to four seniors: Hice, Gavin Warren, S.J. Adkins and Tanner Dalton.
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Chris Hoppes is the sports editor for the Record-Herald in Washington C.H.