By KEVIN WEAKS
Union City shut down a couple of McKenzie rallies and then went on two of their own.
It was more than enough.
The Golden Tornadoes scored twice in the bottom of the third inning and five times in the fourth on the way to an impressive 8-0 win over the Rebels in the opening round of the Region 7A Baseball Tournament on Monday evening at Elam Stadium/Ladd Field.
UC will now travel to Huntingdon, a 2-0 winner over Halls on Monday and the District 13A champion, on Wednesday for the regional championship. Both teams will then advance to the sectional game on Friday against Region 8A representatives Scotts Hill and Riverside.
Wednesday’s winner will host the 8A runner-up, while the loser of Wednesday’s game will hit the road for a date with the 8A champion.
In adding two games to its schedule, Union City (26-7) rode a gutsy pitching effort from staff ace Clay Treece and timely hitting throughout the lineup.
Treece (9-0) tossed six innings, striking out 10 and walking three while giving up five hits. He threw 83 pitches, 56 for strikes. Three times — including the first and third innings — he pitched out of jams that kept the Rebels scoreless and turned the momentum UC’s way.
“Clay really buckled down with runners on base,” said UC head coach Jeremy Maddox, who is guiding his team to its third sectional round in his five years as skipper. “It’s up to a good pitcher to be able to find his way out of those jams, and he was able to pitch around it.”
After allowing back-to-back one-out singles in the first inning, Treece got Collin Smith to watch strike three for the second out and then blew the third strike past Mitchell Lunn to end the inning.
“Clay’s been a bulldog when people get on base,” Maddox said. “He doesn’t like people to score on him, so he really goes into another gear when guys get on base. That’s the competitor coming out in him. He has the ability to come up with big strikeouts when he needs them.”
Helped by a defense that was nearly flawless and spectacular at times, Treece pitched his way out of more trouble in the third. After Drew Cooley made a nice grab behind the second base bag to get lead-off batter Zach Newman, Treece issued a walk to Devyn Crowell and a bunt single to Noah Lowrance.
But, Tristen Lowe grounded into a fielder’s choice that got Lowrance going to second but allowed Crowell to reach third. Lowe stole second, but Cooley grabbed the throw and quickly went back to Luke Searcy at the plate for the tag on Crowell, ending the inning.
“McKenzie was trying to break the ice early and force a run across, and we were able to make a good play,” Maddox said. “Those are plays we work on all year, so to see it come up in a key situation of a big game and for us to execute and get that third out at the plate was a big momentum changer for us.”
That was the opening UC needed.
Drake Parker stroked a one-out single and then put pressure on the McKenzie defense with two stolen bases, his theft of third resulting in the game’s first run when catcher Austin Chapman’s throw went into the outfield.
UC went ahead 2-0 when Caleb Long walked and covered the rest of the path on an RBI double to leftfield by Cooley.
Things went from bad to worse for McKenzie (20-8) in the fourth — first the offense and then the defense.
A pair of walks netted nothing for the Rebs as Lunn was caught stealing and then Grant Lowrance was picked off first base.
In the bottom half, Eric Moore singled and Christian Cousar reached on an error. After Parker reached on a fielder’s choice that put out Joseph Shanks at the plate for the second out, Searcy doubled in two runs for a 4-0 lead.
Parker scored on a wild pitch, and then Cooley’s high pop-up on the infield fell in for a hit to plate two more runs. Long, who had been hit by a pitch, raced home with no one covering the plate, and Cooley took off for second with no one at that bag, either.
“Anytime you have a big inning like that, where you extend a lead, it’s always good,” Maddox said. “We talk all the time about extending leads when you have them to separate yourself and put pressure on the opposing team. We were able take advantage of some misplayed balls by them and then follow up with some big hits. That’s a good combination.”
UC’s final run came in the fifth as Travis Rutland dropped in a double in shallow leftfield, went to third on a passed ball and scored on Moore’s base hit.
Treece pitched out of his final jam in the top of the sixth, giving up three straight singles to start the inning before getting two strikeouts and fielding a ground ball just in front of the plate for a fielder’s choice.
Published in The Messenger 5.14.13