NORTH ROBINSON — Colonel Crawford’s postseason gut check occurred in its very first game.
After struggling through the first three innings, the No. 1 seed Eagles (24-2) got on track and pulled away to beat No. 6 seed Oak Harbor 4-1 in a Division III sectional championship game on Thursday at Marion Althouse Field in North Robinson.
Colonel Crawford’s ace Drayton Burkhart struggled, but benefited from good defense and timely hitting to earn the win. Burkhart pitched a complete game, surrendering just three hits. The lone run he gave up was unearned. He struck out six batters, walked four, and hit three batters.
“(Burkhart) did not have his best stuff. He just found a way to win,” Gorbett said. “He came off the field with a blister. Not a small blister. The whole skin of his big toe, he ripped off. He pitched on a raw toe, pushing off the rubber that whole game. I was like, ‘You can’t pitch,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I can.’ They taped it up. It was just a very gutty performance from a competitor who didn’t have his best stuff, his toe’s hurting, and he somehow finds a way.
“That was not his finest performance, as far as strikes, velocity, and everything, but as far as mental toughness, that was his guttiest performance of his pitching career.”
Rockets starting pitcher Ashton Schroeder was in total control through the first three innings. He struck out seven of the nine Eagles batters he faced and retired the other two on ground balls to the shortstop. Schroeder tossed a complete game, recording nine strikeouts and one walk. He gave up four runs (three earned) on seven hits.
“At the end of the day, Ashton battled on that mound and did everything he needed to do,” said Oak Harbor coach Nick Lance. “But I’ll still stick and stand by that No. 9 right there. I knew when we went to that seeding meeting what we were facing and I had confidence in my boys in what we could do. Unfortunately, we just came out on the bad side of things tonight. Again, I would take those kids time in and time out. Those are my boys and I believe in them.”
In the top of the first inning, Burkhart walked Oak Habor’s lead-off hitter Grant Belcher and hit No. 3 batter Collin Fauver to put runners in scoring position. Belcher scored on a passed ball to give the Rockets a 1-0 lead, but Burkhart induced a pop-up to shortstop Cade Hamilton and handled a ground ball back to the mound to record the third out with no further damage occurring.
The Eagles manufactured a pair of runs in the home half of the fourth inning to grab a 2-1 lead. Micah Thomas led off with a single up the middle and moved to second base on Nolan McKibben’s sacrifice bunt. Hamilton stepped in and slapped a base hit to left field that allowed Thomas to score the tying run. An error and a passed ball put Hamilton on third base and he scored the go-ahead run on a Burkhart single to right field.
Colonel Crawford pushed two more runs across the plate in the bottom of the fifth inning to give themselves the final margin of victory, 4-1. Thomas hit a one-out single to center field and then scored on another base hit by Hamilton. Nolan McKibben singled to right field and was able to advance to third on Hamilton’s RBI single. McKibben scored on Carson Feichtner’s sacrifice fly to left field to round out the scoring for the Eagles.
Following the first inning score, Oak Harbor’s offense stalled despite being able to get runners on base in five of the final six innings. The Rockets (12-16) left a total of eight base runners stranded over the course of the game, including leaving two men on in the fourth, fifth, and seventh innings.
Hamilton finished 2-for-3 with two RBI and scored a run for Colonel Crawford. Thomas was 2-for-3 and scored twice. Nolan McKibben and Mason McKibben each had a hit. Nolan McKibben scored one run. Burkhart and Feichtner each drove in a run.
Colonel Crawford will face either No. 3 seed Wynford or No. 8 seed Genoa Area in the district semifinals on Thursday, May 27 at Shelby High School. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m.
“We know Wynford’s a good team and we’ve heard Genoa’s a tough team, too,” Gorbett said. “You get to tournament time, you’re going to have some tough games. That’ll be a challenge.”
The Eagles beat Wynford twice this season (12-7 and 3-1) on the way to a 16-0 league record and a Northern 10 Athletic Conference championship.