The Jefferson Eagles boys softball team discovered the road to the championship this year was much easier than winning the actual title.
After beating Grundy County 15-0 and Meadville 8-0, the Eagles advanced to the state championship game for the ninth time in the last 10 years.
They entered the October 1 game at Danner Park in Chillicothe with an undefeated 10-0 record facing the Tina-Avalon Dragons who stood at 12-3.
In what proved to be a pitcher’s duel through the first four innings between Jefferson’s Clayton Schieber and Tina’s Jedd Stark, the Eagles remained confidently patient throughout the game.
Jefferson Head Coach Tyler Pedersen said both pitchers were prepared and in championship form, which required his players to remain focused.
“I felt like our boys stayed prepared and we made the plays we needed to,” he said. “It is easy to become frustrated when you are facing a pitcher as good as Jedd Stark is. He had 15 strikeouts but I felt like our guys learned from each at-bat and came up with enough hits to get the job done.”
Those needed hits didn’t come until the top of the fifth inning. Tied at zero, their bats finally came alive when Catcher Zach Jermain knocked a triple into the outfield. After an intentional walk put Schieber on first, Third Baseman Blake Meyer smacked a ground-rule double which scored Jermain to make it a 1-0 game.
Consistent pitching by both teams kept the score at 1-0 through the end of six innings.
But in the seventh, the Eagles started to heat things up once again.
Jermain got on base with a single followed by Schieber, who on an error advanced to second and Jermain to third. Meyer was walked, and with bases loaded and two outs, Tina’s Stark came up big with another strikeout, ending the inning with the score still 1-0.
The scoreless top of the inning gave the Dragons one last chance.
With two outs and runners on first and second, Jefferson’s defense came up big again when a short infield hit was thrown out at first. The Eagles celebrated the 1-0 victory and their ninth boys state softball championship.
“This one is just as special as the very first,” Pedersen said. “I tell the boys all the time to never take it for granted. I am very proud of this team, because as inexperienced as we were coming into the season, the boys worked very hard and accomplished what they set out to do.”
While the game — and the tournament — was nothing short of a solid team effort, Schieber was a monster on the mound. In his last games as an Eagle, he had three complete shut-outs, allowing no runs on one hit, two walks and a total of 38 strikeouts.
Pedersen said he feels privileged to have had the chance to coach a player like him.
“Clayton is very talented, but to go with that, he is a great competitor and his work ethic is second to none,” he said, giving credit to his training during the off-season and help from his older brother, Logan, also an all-state pitcher, his parents and his teammates.
“(He) is the pitcher he is today by no accident,” Pedersen said. “He is an athlete who started out with some natural talent but worked very hard to become the best.”
For the tournament, Schieber had five hits, one run and five RBIs; Jermain had five hits, six runs and one RBI; Charles Miller had four hits, two runs and four RBIs; Tyler Schmitz had three hits, four runs and three RBIs; Sam Kelley had three hits, three runs and two RBIs; Alex Holtman had two hits, two runs and one RBI; Meyer had one hit, two runs and one RBI; Jordan McCrary had one hit, two runs and an RBI; and Jed Galbraith scored two runs.
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