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St. Clairsville Bounced by Pickerington in Ohio American Legion Baseball Tournament

ST. CLAIRSVILLE’S Luke Slavik slides around the tag of Pickerington catcher Andrew Troup to score a run Thursday in the seventh inning of action during the Ohio American Legion state tournament at Beavers Field in Lancaster. St. Clairsville lost, 6-2, and was eliminated. T-L Photo/KIM NORTH

LANCASTER — For the second consecutive season, St. Clairsville has went two-and-out at the Ohio American Legion state baseball tournament. It was a learning experience in 2015. This year, it was a stunner.

Thursday afternoon at Beavers Field, Post 159’s shaky starting pitching and lack of hitting for the second straight day led to a 6-2 loss to Pickerington Post 283 in an elimination game. St. Clairsville (33-8) had dropped a 10-2 decision to Coshocton Post 65 Wednesday that halted its 19-game winning streak.

“This one really hurts because we thought we could do some damage down here,” St. Clairsville manager Mike Muklewicz said while holding back some emotions. “I think we thought we were going to ride our hot hitting and, obviously, we didn’t do that. We did it all year, but we got here and we just didn’t have it.

“Hitting is contagious,” he continued. “It seems like when one player is hot, the whole team is hot. When we’re not hot, we’re not hot as a team.”

Playing as the visitors once again, Post 159 found itself in the hole again after one inning as Pickerington, which lost 4-3 to Circleville in its tourney opener, manufactured two runs on just one hit. Post 283 chased St. Clairsville starter Kyle Anderson after he walked three of the first four batters he faced and hit the other to force in a run.

Martins Ferry junior-to-be Austin Bassa was summoned from the bullpen and did yeoman’s work for six innings. He gave up a sacrifice fly to the first batter he faced as the deficit grew to 2-0. However, he yielded only four hits in his time on the mound, but they all came in the fifth when Pickerington scored three times to take a 5-0 advantage.

Bassa struck out seven and walked a pair, while also hitting one batter.

“That kid gained a lot of stock in my mind today,” Muklewicz said of Bassa. “He’s a kid that will be coming back next year and that was a bulldog effort. He came in a tough situation and shut them down with the exception of that one inning. Kudos to him.”

St. Clairsville had the leadoff hitter on base in three of the first four innings, but couldn’t come up with a timely hit when it needed one.

In the sixth inning, Eric Banal and Tyler Ramsay delivered back-to-back singles with two outs, with Banal advancing to third when the ball was misplayed. Tyler Blomquist walked to load the bases, but the next batter struck out swinging.

Post 159 finally broke through in the seventh when it chased Post 283 starter Kyle Gannon. Luke Slavik singled to center with one out and came all the way around the bases when Jayden Starks bunt was thrown wildly to throw and sailed down the rightfield line. Starks scooted to third and raced home ahead of the throw on Patrick Buchanan’s bouncer to short. Banal walked with two outs as Tom Green came on in relief. Ramsay’s chopper to third was bobbled as the bases were loaded. An infield popup to the pitcher left all three runners stranded for the second straight inning.

“We couldn’t come up with a clutch hit when we needed them,” Muklewicz lamented. “We’ve done it all season, but we couldn’t do it the last two days.”

Banal and Ramsay evenly divided four singles.

“The kids are very, very disappointed, as are the coaches,” he continued. “I don’t know if I’ll ever see a group of kids this close and this talented. They not only love to play the game, but they love to be around each other. My coaching staff has been great and the support we’ve received back home was awesome all the way through.

“It was a good and memorable ride while it lasted.”

Pickerington advances to play Utica, which fell 13-1 to Toledo Thursday for its first loss.

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