STEUBENVILLE - The Buckeye Local baseball team got a large monkey off its back Saturday at Vacarro Field.
C.J. Besece's club combined gutsy pitching with a couple of big innings to clip Indian Creek 7-5 in Division II sectional play.
The tournament victory was the first for Buckeye Local since the 2000 season. The Panthers earned the right to face second-seeded Edison on Thursday.
"This program's gone way too long without a sectional tournament win," Besece said. "I'm proud of our kids. It's huge for our program to advance in the tournament. The monkey's off our back."
Buckeye missed a golden opportunity in the first. Shane Duncan smashed the game's initial pitch to left for a double. He moved to third on a pass ball. Creek's Jordan Yeater buckled down, however, and retired the next three Panther hitters.
The Panthers went up 1-0 in the third. Chase Hopkins walked and scampered home when Josh Malesky was safe on an error. Buckeye plated two tallies in the fourth on RBI singles by Tyler Richardson and Shane Duncan.
Creek got on the board in the home half of the inning. Sammy Orr drew a free pass off Buckeye starter Josh Malesky. The senior catcher stole second and came home when Ty Yocom chopped a single over the Panther third baseman. Yocom's hit was Creek's first of the contest.
Mike Cottis' crew made it 3-2 in the fifth, Seth Wilson leading off with a base knock, moving to third on consecutive pass balls and touching the plan when Alex Young bounced one to second.
Both teams scored three times in the sixth. Eric Banal's double, Cory Slaga's run-scoring single and Hopkins' two-run triple were the key blows for Buckeye. Creek scored thanks to Yocom's second RBI hit of the contest and Dustin Rath's three-batter to deep right center. The score stood at 6-5 entering the seventh.
The Panthers added an insurance run in the seventh when Austin Marshall ripped a triple to center.
"It was a battle all the way through," Besece noted. "We scored, they answered, we scored, and they answered. It was back and forth all game. We were able to keep the lead and that was the most important thing.
"We made a couple of errors but we avoided giving up a big inning and that was huge."
As Cottis indicated, "this was a rivalry game (the teams split two regular contests) and that is the way rivalry games go-back and forth. I'm proud of how our kids played. They kept their heads in the game when we got down. We kept battling back and that's all you can do is keep battling and hope the ball bounces your way."
Malesky started on the hill for the Panthers and worked into the sixth. Hopkins came on and retired two in a row to end a Creek threat.
"He (Malesky) pitched a heck of a game," Besece said. "Hopkins got us out of trouble and came into the seventh strong with a lot of confidence."
Hopkins, a lefty, fanned Creek's first two batters in the seventh then retired the third on a grounder back to the mound. In the initial six frames, the leadoff hitter for Redskins managed to reach base.
"Getting that first out in the seventh was huge," the Buckeye coach continued. "That gave him the confidence he needed to get the other two outs."
The Panthers will take an 8-17 into Thursday's battle with Edison.
Creek finishes the season at 10-16.
Cottis took time following the game to praise his five seniors (Yocom, Yeater, Wilson, Anthony Davis and Orr).
"I've been with them for four years and they are great kids who come from great families," Cottis said. "I couldn't have asked for a better group of seniors to coach. I love them like they are own kids and I hate to see them go."
The Creek-Buckeye battle was game three of Saturday's tripleheader. In the opener, Meadowbrook whipped Carrollton 5-1. Game two saw Minerva eliminate East Liverpool, 9-3.
Buckeye Local 7, Indian Creek 5
Buckeye Local 001 203 1 - 7 10 1
Indian Creek 000 113 0 - 5 6 2
BUCKEYE LOCAL (8-17): Malesky (WP, 6K, 3BB) Hopkins (6, Save, 3K 0BB) and Sokolowski; Duncan T, S, RBI; Hopkins T, 2RBI; Marshall T, RBI; Slaga S, RBI; Banal D; Richardson 2S; Borkoski S; Malesky S.
INDIAN CREEK (10-16): Yeater (LP, 3K, 3BB) Wilson (6, 0K, 0BB) and Orr; Yocom 2S, 2RBI; Rath T, RBI; Young RBI; Williams S; Wilson S; Orr S.