By Frank Foreman
WEST MEAD TOWNSHIP —
The McLane 9- and 10-year-old baseball team picked the perfect time to have a breakout offensive performance: The championship game.
In a contest that watched every single player on the McLane squad cross the plate at least once, it was McLane that showed exactly why it didn’t lose a single game during the District 1 Tournament.
The Crawford County Fairgrounds were the backdrop for McLane’s 20-7 championship-winning victory over Mid-East Tuesday night, once again proving that contributions from an entire team is what leads to success on the diamond, and that nothing beats the feeling of watching a group of kids celebrate something they worked so hard for.
“It feels like it’s 110 degrees on this field, and I have goose bumps,” McLane manager Fred Caro said as he watched his undefeated team celebrate its title. “As this tournament progressed, we did it as a team. We carried 14 kids on our team, which is unheard of at this age group. But the extra kids made the difference, and the players on the bench contributed just as much the starters did. Truly a team effort.”
McLane now heads to Union City Monday for the sectional tournament.
That team effort shined in the batter’s box, as McLane tallied 13 hits as a squad, with the majority of the damage being done during an 11-run third inning.
Following an error and then a single by Gary Defoy to start the inning, Dane Jukes stepped up to the plate and belted a deep triple into left-center field to score both runners, turning a 9-7 McLane lead into an 11-7 advantage.
Needless to say, that kick-started a big inning in a big way.
A pair of errors followed, setting up Eric Mathews for an RBI-single. Jaxson Scrutchins doubled home two more runners, and More-house, his second at-bat of the inning, came through with an RBI single.
Mix in a pair of walks during the frame, and you have what turned out to be a six-hit, 11-run inning, putting the game far out of Mid-East’s reach.
“We’ve really come up big offensively in our last three games,” Caro said. “I tell them to play every inning as if the score is tied, and with the intention to bat through the lineup. As long as you’re honest with these kids, they will produce and listen. They want to be successful and they want to be winners.”
What ended in a rout began with Mid-East putting the pressure on McLane early in the game.
Jason McFadden led off with a single, and benefited from three wild pitches to come around and score to make it a quick 1-0 lead for Mid-East.
McLane answered, as it did every inning, with a three-run output, highlighted by an RBI-single by Matt Leehan. Mathews and Alex Bruce also brought home runs during the inning, putting McLane ahead 3-1.
Mid-East put its biggest scare into McLane during the top of the second inning when three consecutive walks to start the frame set Mid-East up for a big inning.
Needing to score in bunches, Mid-East took advantage with RBI-singles from Thomas Urey and Jesse McFadden to key a five-run inning, giving the lead back to Mid-East, 6-3.
McLane came right back in the bottom half with six runs of its own, led by back-to-back RBI-doubles by Leehan and Mathews, pushing McLane back in front by three runs.
Jackson Mattocks scored for Mid-East in the top half of the third inning on a wild pitch, but that would be the last time Mid-East would cross home plate.
Leehan and Mathews both had multi-hit games, while Eli Bruce, Simmons, Jukes, Leehan and Mathews all finished with two RBIs each.
Leehan, who finished 2-for-4 with three runs scored and two RBIs, had his biggest moment of the game on the mound.
Leehan came on in relief and recorded the final out of the game with a strikeout, prompting a huge celebration from the McLane players and fans.
And as all 14 of those McLane players took a victory lap around the field with their championship banner in hand, it became increasingly difficult for Caro to not get nostalgic about the celebration.
“I told them that it may not have sunk in yet, but when they get older, they will look back on this,” Caro said. “This means everything.”
By the time the victory lap finished, Caro’s goose bumps were still there.