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Clutch hitting, Blackburn’s pitching lift Big Red

Steubenville overcomes miscues to upset No. 1 seed Indian Valley

THE THRILL OF VICTORY — Big Red’s Ayden Manning and J.T. Thompson celebrate after a game-ending double play sealed Steubenville’s 6-1 victory over Indian Valley in Monday’s Division II East 2 District semifinal at Harrison Central’s Mazeroski Field. - Andrew Grimm

CADIZ — Playing the top seed is a tall task when a team plays errorless ball. Committing five errors makes it that much tougher.

However, a battler of an ace on the mound that keeps fighting and some clutch hits can be enough to overcome the miscues.

It was for Big Red on Monday, as Fred Heatherington’s No. 7 seed club got another gem from junior righty Cooper Blackburn and scored all of its runs with two outs on the way to a 6-1 upset of top-seed Indian Valley in the Division II East 2 District semifinals at Mazeroski Field.

“The key was didn’t give up,” Heatherington said. “We kept battling and the results show that.

“We left some guys on base, but we got some timely hitting when we needed it.

“We stayed together.”

Big Red (15-11) which has battled adversity all season, and Blackburn, who has been dealing down the stretch, did not let the early mistakes get them down.

“He battled,” Heatherington said of his ace. “Earlier in the year, the errors affected him. He has matured and late in the year he just pitches. That is the sign of a good pitcher.”

Blackburn fanned seven batters in allowing just two hits and issuing only one walk. He fired a complete game shutout in last week’s sectional final win and in the regular season finale before that.

After the Braves (19-6) plated a run in the bottom of the first without a hit, assisted by three Big Red errors, they would not get one the rest of the way.

In the top of the second, Steubenville took the lead for good with the first of its two-out magic.

Kye Fleming started the rally with a two-out double, then after Bubby Reese drew a walk, J.D. Ellis tied the game with an RBI single and Lee Sewell followed with another for what ended up being the winning run.

Zach Smith drew a walk to load the bases, then Malone University commit J.T. Thompson hammered a ball up the middle to drive in two more for a 4-1 lead.

The Braves had a runner cut down at the plate in the third, which ended up being the closest they came to scoring the rest of the way.

“That’s obviously a tough way to go out but it’s always tough when you play Big Red in a tournament game, they always seem to have our number,” Braves coach Shannon McComb said. “It’s hard to win any game when you have two hits.

“All three games with them this season were a battle. I’d have liked this one to be a little closer but Blackburn did a great job for them and kept us off balance. Give them credit.”

After Blackburn worked 1-2-3 innings in the fourth, fifth and sixth, the Big Red offense came up with some more two-out magic in the top of the seventh to give him some added cushion as Hakim Edwards ripped a two-out, two-run double to make it 6-1.

“That was big for us against a team like (Indian Valley),” Heatherington said of Edwards’ knock.

After a one-out single in the bottom half, the Big Red defense put its miscues behind it and turned a perfectly executed 6-4-3 double play to end the game and seal a spot in Wednesday district title game.

Big Red will face No. 8 Meadowbrook back at Mazeroski Field with a trip to the regional tournament on the line. The Colts upset No. 4 St. Clairsville, 5-0, on Monday.

“It means a lot to us,” Heatherington said of reaching the district championship. “We’ve been through a lot of stuff this year, so this means a lot.”

Division II East 2 District Semifinal

At Mazeroski Field

No. 7 Big Red 6, No. 1 Indian Valley 1

Big Red 0-4-0 0-0-0 2 – 6 11 5

Indian Valley 1-0-0 0-0-0 0 – 1 2 1

BIG RED (15-11): Blackburn (WP, CG, 1R, 0ER, 2H, 7K, 1BB) and Smith. Smith 3S; Fleming D; Thompson 2S, 2RBI; Ellis 2S, RBI; Sewell S, RBI; Manning S; Edwards D, 2RBI.

INDIAN VALLEY (19-6): Kochman (LP, 6+IP, 6R, 6ER, 10H, 3K, 2BB), Henry (1IP, 0R, 1H, 2K, 2BB) and McComb.

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