STRUTHERS — McDonald’s stellar pitching and defensive performance was greeted with one just slightly better.
The Blue Devils’ seemingly magical run — which was in the midst of a 14-game win streak — reached its final curtain Thursday, as McDonald was held to one hit in a narrow 1-0 loss to Lake Center Christian in the Division IV Struthers District championship.
McDonald concludes its season at 21-5.
“I just told (our players) it shows how fun high school baseball can be,” McDonald coach Andy Timko said of the Blue Devils’ season. “When the weather gets nice, you get to sectional, and then you get to play in the district, and then you can go on to the regional. It’s a lot of fun, and I don’t think McDonald’s experienced that in a long time. So now all of a sudden, kids are wanting to play baseball. We’re going to work all winter (to get back).”
McDonald starting pitcher Joey Skowron turned in a masterpiece, allowing one run on four hits and two walks over six innings of work. He struck out two batters, but mostly spent his day throwing strikes and letting McDonald’s stellar defense go to work.
But Skowron’s gem was met with an equally impressive effort. LCC (22-5) picked up a complete-game shutout from Dylan Maninga, who gave up just one hit and three walks as part of an 11-strikeout day. He retired 21 of 25 batters in the victory.
“You can tell he’s been pitching a long time,” Timko said of Maninga. “He knew what he was doing out there, and he had that little breaking ball working pretty well. Hat’s off to him.”
The Blue Devils had limited opportunities to strike. In the first inning, Zach Shobel reached safely on a fielder’s choice, but was subsequently thrown out on a steal attempt, and then was caught stealing again in the fourth by LCC’s Wyatt Fether.
McDonald’s best opportunity came in the top of the sixth. Brady Flere led off with a walk, and then Nolon Agler notched the Blue Devils’ only hit of the day with a two-out single. But the threat ended on a pop fly.
The Blue Devils also wanted to bunt their initial baserunner over, but couldn’t execute the play to get him into scoring position.
Lake Center didn’t have many opportunities either, but made good on its best chance. Luke Heckert led off with a single, and then advanced to second and third on a steal and wild pitch, respectively. Harrison Coblentz drove him in with a sacrifice fly to right field to score the game’s only run.
“Their catcher made some good throws on our second-fastest runner. It was a good ballgame. We could’ve tied it up there with the guys on first and second, but we didn’t get the bunt down. They score on a hit and then a fly ball. That’s baseball,” Timko said.
That third inning aside, Skowron kept the Tigers caged. He retired 17 of the 23 batters he faced.
LCC threatened in the second inning, putting two runners on with two outs with a pair of singles, but Skowron picked up a fielder’s choice to end the frame. And from the fourth inning onward, he was light’s out, working a pair of four up, three down innings and one three up, three down frame.
“Joey threw strikes. He relied on our defense, and we have a very good defense. All year, our defense has been excellent, so he just threw strikes. We didn’t want to walk anybody, just put the ball in play and let our defense work behind him,” Timko said.
Now, the Blue Devils head into the offseason with a profusion of optimism. They graduate just two seniors from this year’s squad, and have a bevy of talented underclassmen working their way up through the ranks.
Between that and the experience gained from this year’s trip to the district championship, Timko says the best may be yet to come.
“This is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We have a lot of freshmen. We only lose two seniors, so we have a lot of guys back. We’re a little head of schedule (developmentally), but next year we’re going to go at it again. We have a freshman class of, I think, seven people, and we played three freshmen in this game.”
Sixteen teams are left. Sixteen teams with their eyes on the prize: Omaha. And after a thrilling regional weekend that saw a No. 4 seed and
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