The Smith-Cotton baseball team is on the verge of clinching its first West Central Conference championship since 2010 after a doubleheader sweep of O’Hara on Wednesday at Dey Field at Liberty Park. The Tigers won the first game 6-2 and the second game 9-1.
Tiger starting pitchers limited O’Hara in both games as Dalton Zaremba pitched six scoreless innings in the first before allowing a pair of runs in the seventh and being relieved by Austin Bullerd. Taylor Schubert pitched a complete game in the nightcap, striking out nine and allowing one run on five hits.
“My curveball was excellent,” Schubert said. “I was really able to stay dominant with it and stay in control.”
Schubert struck out the side in the fifth inning and worked a one-two-three second inning. He got help from his defense after a leadoff single in the fourth when first baseman Cody Kozak caught a line drive and stepped on first for the unassisted double play. Smith-Cotton also got out of a jam in the sixth inning when the Celtics put runners on the corners with two outs before Schubert induced a grounder back to the mound.
“Another good outing for (Schubert),” said Smith-Cotton coach Jud Kindle. “He kept the ball down in the zone and mixed his speeds. He was very effective throwing strikes and letting his defense work for him.”
In game one, Zaremba pitched 6 1-3 innings and allowed two runs on five hits, striking out two. The top three in the Celtics order had particular trouble against Zaremba, going 0 for 9 in the game. He set down the top of the order one-two-three in the first, aided by a sliding catch in center by Chance McMullin. Facing the same three batters in the sixth, he induced a pair of pop-outs on the infield and a grounder to Luke Archibeque at short.
“(He was) keeping the ball down and mixing his pitches,” Kindle said. “He does a good job of that. He was ahead in counts. The only thing Dalton did wrong was get tired at the end.”
When Zaremba allowed a pair of runs in the seventh, the Tigers’ side-arming reliever Bullerd came on and retired both Celtics he faced.
“He keeps it down in the zone,” Kindle said. “With that arm angle, he’s got so much downward movement. He gets a lot of groundballs.”
Offensively, the Tigers were getting production from the bottom of the lineup. No. 8 hitter Cole Simoncic had an RBI double in the first game. In game two, No. 7 hitter Lane McFail drew a pair of walks and scored twice, No. 9 hitter Baxter Mays drove him in with a single up the middle and Aaron Dieckman had a double.
“When the bottom of the order is clicking, that’s a good sign,” Kindle said. “That’s what we’re looking for, one through nine.”
Smith-Cotton opened the scoring in the second inning of game one. Kozak drew a leadoff walk and scored on a double down the right-field line by Cole Simoncic. Gavin Jones later scored from third on a wild pitch.
They added two more in the fifth when Kozak lined a ball to the corner in left for a double, scoring Steven Bradbury and Lane McFail.
The Tigers got another couple of runs in the sixth. McMullin bunted for a single and stole second. He then scored when a ball off Bradbury’s bat took a Liberty Hop over the shortstop. Bradbury advanced to second on the throw home to get McMullin and later scored on a single by Nick Hagedorn.
“Our bats are starting to wake up,” Kindle said. “There for a while, we would get in a funk where we just weren’t hitting the ball very well. We’ll find ways to win playing small ball, but when the bats get hot, which we hope will carry on through districts, it’s one of those things where two-out doubles and singles really help.”
O’Hara broke through in the top of the seventh. A flyball to right scored Carter Halil from third, and Ryan Adams scored on a double to left-center by Brock Hughes before Bullerd came on to end the game.
In the second game, McMullin led off the first with a triple to the gap in left-center and scored on a Bradbury groundout.
“I just sat there and drove it,” McMullin said. “We started off hot at our away games and struggled here at home, but now we’re hitting.”
Later in the inning, Kozak made it 2-0 when he singled down the left-field line to drive in Dom Zerilli.
In the second inning, Bradbury hit a sharp single up the middle to score Mays. Bradbury and Archibeque scored later in the inning when Zerilli snuck a single past the glove of the Celtics shortstop into left to put the Tigers ahead 5-0.
The Celtics got a run in the third. Zach Drake hit a sharp grounder to third, which a diving Bradbury couldn’t quite handle. A single put Drake on third and he scored on a wild pitch.
Smith-Cotton got that run back in the fourth inning. Bradbury led off with a single and scored when Hagedorn doubled to the right-center gap. The Tigers added another in the fifth on a Mays single up the middle to drive in McFail. In the sixth, Zerilli doubled to right to score Bradbury to make it 8-1.
The Tigers (13-6, 7-0 WCC) now lead Clinton by two games in the loss column in the conference standings and can clinch the WCC title at home Friday against St. Pius X.