COLUMBUS -- State champions! Say it loud and say it proud -- the Indian Valley Braves baseball team rules Ohio Division III baseball!
Indian Valley's first state championship in any team sport is now in the record books, as the Braves took care of business on a warm and sunny Saturday morning with a 7-6, eight inning victory over Hamilton Badin. The game was played at beautiful downtown Hamilton Park, home of the Columbus Clippers. Indian Valley's win completed a long comeback from a dismal 2-2 start. Now 25 wins later, no one but the Braves can claim the top spot in Ohio Division III baseball.
Head coach Shannon McComb said, "It still hasn't really sunk in yet. I think it will hit me all at once. What a great group of kids, what a way to go out. I don't think you could have asked for a better game for a state championship with two well matched teams."
Junior Matt Wheeler opened up scoring for Indian Valley in the bottom of the first with a solo home run blast that just cleared the left field fence. He ended the Brave's scoring by sprinting in from third with the winning run in the bottom of the eighth after relief pitcher Jake Clear took a squeeze bunt from Johnny Iacobucci and promptly launched it over his third baseman's head.
Instead of taking the more conservative gamble to get Iacobucci at first, Clear gambled he could take down Wheeler, who was advancing from second. Clear lost the gamble, Indian Valley won the title.
But the throw to third wasn't a surprise to Brave's head coach Shannon McComb.
"We thought he'd try there", said McComb, "because they had done so on a similar play earlier. But we wanted to advance runners and put the pressure on them. Matt had the speed to get there so we gave it a shot. Once the ball got loose, he had to hurry up or I think I was going to beat him to the plate."
Indeed, it was a déjà vu play for the Rams, as an earlier Brave's run scored in the same manner.
Wheeler started the game on the mound and gave way to junior Adam Mizer in the top of the third with the Rams leading 3-1. Mizer gave up two singles and a run before getting the final two batters to pop out with the score 4-1.
McComb commented, "We told Matt last night and this morning if we could get three innings out of him, we'd be in good shape with Adam (Mizer) and Johnny (Iacobucci) ready to go. He gave us 2 1/3 and did exactly what we needed. And Adam was just on top of his game as usual and was able to take it to the end."
It didn't take long for the Braves to respond to Badin's lead. Iacobucci led off the bottom of the third with a single followed by a Bobby Hall walk. Logan Cozart landed a bunt but a throwing error to third by starting pitcher Josh McFarland allowed Iacobucci to score. Another Ram's error, this one by the centerfield who misjudged a screaming liner launched by senior Zach Baker allowed Hall and Cozart to score, tying the game 4-4.
Baker moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Andy Allensworth. At the plate, Mizer attempted a bunt and then backed off, but catcher Tony Cassano dropped the ball. Baker, who had a sizeable lead off third base, made it to home before Cassano could recover. The inning ended with the Braves leading 5-4.
Indian Valley plated a lone run in the fourth to lead 6-4 after Wheeler walked, got to second on a Logan Gray single, and crossed the plate when Cozart ripped a base hit up the middle.
Badin added singles runs in the fifth and sixth to tie the game, but could have scored more. With runners at first and third in the fifth, the Ram's Scott Purcell tagged one to right field that was caught by a diving Baker. Though the runner at third scored on the tag up, the damage could have been much worse.
The Braves dodged another bullet in the sixth. Left fielder Scott Staarman led off the inning for Badin with a triple to deep left center. A double by Zach Toerner quickly scored Staarman, followed by a groundout that moved Toerner to third. A hit batter put runners at first and third with one out. But Mizer attempted a pick-off to third that caught Toerner in a run down. He was tagged out by Allensworth, the catcher, and a flyout to center ended the Ram's threat.
Neither team threatened again and the game went into extra innings.
Wheeler started the bottom of the eighth with a walk. A slicing single by Gray squeezed its way up the middle between the shortstop and second baseman to move Wheeler to second. The Iacobucci sacrifice bunt turned from silver into gold when the throw to third sailed into Division III baseball history.
Mizer got the mound win while Clear took the loss. Both teams left the bases loaded once, with the Braves doing it in the first inning and the Rams repeating it in the fifth.
Indian Valley wrapped up the year at 27-2 while Badin, who won titles in 1996 and 1991 and has nine total state tournament appearances, finished at 29-3.
McComb closed by saying, "We had some pick-offs. Diving catches. We hit the ball well again. It was a great team effort, and the fans were great too! But I have to add that nothing seems to phase this group and it's been a pleasure for my staff and me to coach them."
In reference to the many Indian Valley t-shirts walking around the ballpark, the dream season is complete.
Badin 103 011 00 - 6-11-3
Indian Valley 104 100 01 - 7-12-2
WP: Adam Mizer. LP: Jake Clear. Top Hitters: IV - Matt Wheeler home run - RBI, Johnny Iacobucci 2 singles - RBI, Logan Gray 2 singles, Cozart single - 2 RBI, Bobby Hall single, Mizer 2 singles, Allensworth 2 singles; Zach Baker 2 RBI. B - Staarman triple, 2 singles; Toerner 2 doubles; McKinney double.
Division III State
Indian Valley 7, Garfield 4
COLUMBUS -- Indian Valley took advantage of three errors to defeat Garrettsville Garfield G-Men 7-4 in the Division III state baseball semifinals at Huntington Park.
The Braves (26-2) will put their 24 game winning streak and chance at their first state title against the Hamilton Badin Rams, a 4-3 winner over Coldwater. The championship is at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
Indian Valley scored five unearned runs before Garfield (20-6) sliced the lead on a two-run double by Brent Marshall in the bottom of the fourth.
The Braves made it 7-2 on a two-run double by sophomore Logan Cozart in the fifth. Garfield closed the gap to 7-4 in the seventh frame, but reliever Adam Mizer struck out Marshall with the bases loaded to end the game.
Junior Johnny Iacobucci started the game and went five solid innings. The lefthander, who is now 9-0 on the season, gave up just two runs and five hits. He didn't allow the G-men any hits until the third inning.
Mizer, the eighth hitter in the line-up, opened the scoring for the Braves in the second inning with a two-out double. Alex Knecht singled him home for a 3-0 advantage. All of this came after Garfield's right fielder dropped a fly ball, making all three runs unearned.
In the fourth, another error got Mizer on base. He then stole second and scored on Knecht's RBI double. Knecht soon scored on an RBI double by Matt Wheeler, making it 5-0 at that point.
Garfield finally scored in the bottom of the fourth when Iacobucci issued a bases-loaded walk. Brent Marshall then got an RBI double for the G-Men but the threat ended when Iacobucci caught a pop-up bunt and turned a double play.
Indian Valley senior first baseman Bobby Hall had four hits to tie the division tournament record.
The team finished with 11 hits overall.
Head coach Shannon McComb said, "We were hitting the ball very well from the beginning of the game and just kept on going. These kids have done everything we've asked of them this year and their ability to handle situations and stay calm and focused is great.
Knecht had two base hits, two RBIs, and scored once.
Indian Valley 030 220 0 - 7-11-1
Garfield 000 200 2 - 4-9-3
WP: Johnny Iacobucci. LP: Joe Collins. Top hitters: (I) Matt Wheeler, Logan Cozart, Adam Mizer double; Bobby Hall double, 3 singles; Alex Knecht double, single. (G) Jeremy Ross, Cody Berg 2 singles; Joe Collins double, single; Brent Marshall double.