By BRADEN LAYER Daily News
Effingham Daily News
---- — LOUISVILLE - North Clay was not perfect by any means in Wednesday’s regional semifinal game against visiting Oblong, but the Cardinals still found enough at the plate to get the job done on an off night.
A number of timely hits, including a solo home run and three total RBIs from Hunter Clifton, lifted the Cardinals to a 9-5 win over the Panthers to advance to the their own regional title.
“That’s what saved us today, the timely hitting,” North Clay coach John Frech said. “We put the ball in play, that’s kind of what we felt we needed to do going into this game.”
The Cardinals were able to take an early lead in the first when Adam Cox lined into an RBI single to right field, his first of two runs batted in on the afternoon, to get North Clay on the board. With two outs, Dylan Walker delivered the first in a number of well-timed hits for the Cardinals, sending a two-RBI double to right center. After one, North Clay led 3-0.
Oblong battled right back with a two-run homer from Jason Midgett in the second to cut the lead to one, but the Panthers could not seem to bring the game back to level play. North Clay routinely stretched the lead when they needed it most.
The Cardinals added a pair in the third off Clifton’s single to left field that scored Cox and Logan Hilderbrand, pushing the North Clay advantage back to three.
One inning later, now ahead 5-3 after an Oblong run, it was Nate Micklautz’s turn to keep the visitors at bay, driving an RBI single up the gut to score Braden McNeely.
“We kept just enough safety distance,” Frech said. “There are things we cold have done differently, to make ourselves more successful, there’s a lot we can work on.”
Despite the somewhat sluggish play, North Clay put the game out of reach in the sixth, ahead 6-3, when Clifton rocketed a deep ball over the left-field fence on the first pitch of his at-bat, extending the lead to four. Cox plated his second run off an RBI single again to right field, and Micklautz scored on an Oblong throwing error to cap the North Clay scoring.
The Panthers scored two in the top of the seventh off a two-run souvenir shot from Koert Mehler, but it was not enough. Cox entered the game to relieve starter Nick McKnelly with one out on the board, and struck out the next two batters to close the game and preserve the 9-5 win.
McKnelly pitched 6.1 innings with ten hits allowed and six strikeouts.
“Nick kept us right in there, “ Frech said. “He gave up ten hits, that’s uncharacteristic of him, but a win’s a win.”
North Clay advanced to Saturday’s regional final game with the victory, where the Cardinals will take on Cumberland with a regional crown on the line.
“We’re excited about it,” Frech said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge. It’s one of the things we were looking forward to this year.”
Oblong 020 100 2 5 10 2
North Clay 302 112 x 9 14 1
WP - McKnelly LP - Rogers
Oblong: Meese (2 1B); Mehler (1B, 2 R HR, 2 RBI); Jones (2 1B); Midgett (2 R HR, 2 RBI); Rogers (1B); Goodwin (2 1B).
North Clay: Britton (2 1B); Micklautz (1B, RBI); Cox (2 1B, 2 RBI); Hilderbrand (2 1B); Clifton (2 1B, HR, 3 RBI); Walker (1B, 2B, 2 RBI); McKnelly (1B); McNeely (1B).