Times Sports Editor
Clay County's 15-year-old Babe Ruth baseball team scored state bragging rights last week and will represent Indiana in the Ohio Valley Regional beginning Friday night.
Competing in the Southwestern State tourney, the team finished as the runner-up to Newburgh, but earned the right to move on when the winner couldn't compete in the next round.
The Clay County squad faced Shelbyville in a best-of-three tourney Friday and bested its opponent in two straight games, 14-12 and 6-3 to advance.
The team rallied following the loss of one of its top pitchers in Craig Bell due to an arm injury that didn't allow him to pitch in the regional. However, coach Tony Sciotto believes that the team became even more motivated following the injury.
"When we lost Craig in the second game of the state tourney I kind of think our expectations dropped a little bit," said Sciotto. "But the team really pulled through."
The team lost its second game of the state tourney, which put its backs against the wall in the double-elimination tourney.
"After we lost the second game, the team got together and the coaches walked away and let the players meet," said Sciotto. "They knew that this was their last chance in Babe Ruth and they didn't want to go out like that.
"Most of the team has been together since they were nine-year olds and for the last six years they've been trying to get back to the regional," Sciotto continued. "They really made the most of their chances."
In the opening 14-12 win over Shelbyville, both Caleb Mershon and Seth Lunsford launched two-run homeruns. Andrew Butts drove home a run with two doubles and Joey Thomas doubled, singled and drove home three runs in the victory. Bell and Tyler Trout each drove in a run and Mershon got the pitching victory, striking our four in six innings of work. Zac Niehaus got the save to end the contest.
The second game, a 6-3 victory, saw Niehaus score the mound victory with six innings of work, striking out four. Tyler Bridgewater came in to earn the save by striking out the side.
Thomas scored twice in the game with Butts, Mershon, Carson Kleiber and Austin Sciotto scoring once.
"Tyler had never pitched for us and Zac Niehaus has really been a work horse for us on the mound," Sciotto said. "This has really been a team effort and I couldn't be more proud of the kids."
The Ohio Valley Regional begins Friday afternoon where Clay County faces Eastern Kentucky in the tourney's first game.
The double-elimination tourney boasts a 10-team field that contains state champions from Illinois, Michigan, West Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Northern and Southern Indiana, Eastern and Western Kentucky as well as the host team from Somerset, Ky.
The winner of the regional advances to play in the Babe Ruth World Series in Van Buren, Ark.
The team is composed of Kleiber, Sciotto, Butts, Lunsford, Curtis Grove, Thomas, Niehaus, Bridgewater, Bell, Mershon Tyler Trout and Blake Price. Coaches are Terry Lunsford, Joe Trout and Sciotto.