JACKSON, Ohio — What started outside the French City over a week ago, and ended inside the Apple City on Tuesday, the Jackson Ironmen clinched their share of the final Southeastern Ohio Athletic League baseball championship — at the Blue Devils’ expense.
Amid two original weather delays, a suspended game, a late washout on Thursday, the scene shifting some 35 miles north and even another delay, the Ironmen — by scoring the game’s final nine runs — mercy-ruled Gallia Academy 11-1 at “Sparky” Haller Field in Jackson.
The Ironmen, in the opening inning on the game’s original date of April 26, scored twice — then walked their way for four runs in the fifth frame before hitting for five runs in the sixth stanza on Tuesday.
Although Gallia Academy got an unearned run in the fourth when play resumed in Jackson, the Blue Devils left the bases loaded — and the Ironmen batted around twice to eventually put the stake in their third consecutive SEOAL title.
The contest was called following the sixth inning with the 10-run mercy rule.
With the win, the Red and White raised its record to 16-5, and shares the one-time four-team SEOAL championship with Warren at 5-1.
Jackson and Warren won on their home fields against each other — with one-run walkoff wins.
This marks the final season for the SEOAL, as Gallia Academy is now a full-time member of the Ohio Valley Conference, and has clinched at least a share of that league title in its first year there.
The Blue Devils finished with 14 league championships in baseball, while the Ironmen amassed their eighth — and their first-ever three-peat.
The others came in 1976, 1982, 1996, 1997 and in 2008.
Jackson and Gallia Academy shared the title two years ago, as the Ironmen earned it outright last season.
“The SEOAL is small this year, but we’ll take this,” said Jackson coach Josh McGraw. “That’s three championships in a row and our seniors have been there for all three of them. I’m very proud of those kids and they have earned it. We’ll put this last SEOAL championship in our pocket and be proud of it.”
Gallia Academy, the Ironmen’s archrival, aimed to spoil Jackson’s bid for a shared crown — and was within striking distance after scoring its only run in the bottom of the fourth when play finally resumed.
Against Jackson ace pitcher Hunter Sexton, Jeremy Brumfield — on the final at-bat prior to the game getting suspended a week ago — reached on a leadoff error.
When play picked back up on Tuesday — and Sexton still working for the Ironmen — Ryan Terry singled to center before back-to-back two-out walks to Tanner Allen and Kole Carter, as Brumfield scored on Carter’s run batted in.
However, Sexton — who went the distance for the Ironmen and only allowed three hits with five walks — struck out his third Blue Devil of the inning to leave the bases loaded.
Sexton collected nine strikeouts altogether, including two apiece in the second and sixth.
He faced four Blue Devils apiece in the second, third and sixth stanzas, while retiring the side 1-2-3 in the fifth.
Gallia Academy actually left eight runners on base, including seven through the first four innings.
With the bases loaded in the first — following Carter reaching on an error, a Matt Bailey infield hit and Anthony Sipple walking — Sexton induced Brumfield into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
With two outs in the third, and Sipple in scoring position following a fielder’s choice, Eric Ward — after singling — was chased down between first and second by Jackson catcher Billy Cooper, who threw to second baseman Lukas White for the tagout.
The only other Blue Devil baserunner was Braden Simms, on one-out walks in the second and sixth.
“That LOB (left on base) stat has kind of been a story to our season,” said GAHS coach Rich Corvin. “We work on that, we work on putting the ball in play and scoring the runners, but you have to tip your hat to those guys (Ironmen). They got it done when they needed to and we didn’t.”
McGraw spoke of Sexton and his Ironmen defense in escaping potential jams.
“Our defense has stepped up all year, but we expect our defense to make plays,” he said. “Our pitchers love it. Just put the ball over the plate and if they hit, we will catch it. That’s the name of the game. When we can turn a double play, we have to turn a double play. You have to make the plays on defense, and we did that both days against them (Blue Devils).”
Offensively, the Ironmen “walked” their way to victory.
Facing Carter, Cooper led off with a double in the game’s initial at-bat, then advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by White.
Carter then walked consecutive Sexton, Tyler Storms and Collin Massie, with Massie getting the RBI to cross Cooper.
Sexton then scored on an error off the bat of Kendall Neal.
Carter quickly settled down, striking out five in a row starting in the second inning — and actually retired 10 of the next 11.
But when things resumed Tuesday in the top of the fifth, Carter issued four straight walks — to Josh Blackburn, Cooper, White and Sexton, with Blackburn scoring on Sexton’s walk and Cooper racing home on a wild pitch.
At that point, Brumfield relieved Carter, who was charged with five runs with four being earned.
He struck out six, while walking seven of the 21 Ironmen he faced.
“I thought we came out relaxed today and got back into it at 2-1, but obviously the strike zone in the top of the fifth had a lot to do with today,” said Corvin. “After you come out offensively and do that, it sucks the wind out of you.”
“I think we scored two runs in the fifth without swinging the bat, but that’s what we preach,” said McGraw. “We’re not going up there just hacking at every pitch. We’re trying to see strikes and wait for them to throw something in the zone. Walks are great, we’ll take walks if they are going to give it to us. We made Carter throw a lot of pitches and made him work.”
The Ironmen added two more runs in the fifth off Brumfield — as Massie walked to load the bases, Sexton scored on an infield hit by Neal, and Storms scored on an RBI-groundout by Bryce Hall.
In the sixth, the Ironmen combined six hits, two Gallia Academy errors and a Storms sacrifice fly for their five runs to put the mercy rule into effect.
Cooper conked an RBI-triple, and scored on an overthrow error to make it 8-1.
Blackburn, White, Sexton and Massie all singled to left and scored in the inning, as Hall had a single drop in shallow center for an RBI — and the 11th and final run.
Incidentally, that was the same final score in the first meeting this year between the two.
Only this time, it started in Centenary and ended in Jackson — with the Ironmen ending the SEOAL as co-champs.
The Blue Devils fell to 14-9 with the loss, but had a chance to clinch the outright OVC championship on Wednesday — with their final league tilt at Rock Hill.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106
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