St. Joe wins pitchers’ duel

BASCOM – Both had red jerseys with gray print and gray numbers. Both had gray and red hats. It was kind of tough to tell the two teams apart.

When it came to the play on the field, there was still very little separating Hopewell-Loudon from Fremont St. Joe.

But there was one big difference between the teams – The Yeckley family.

St. Joe’s Jake Yeckley led off Tuesday’s Division IV sectional final against Hopewell-Loudon with a double, then scored his team’s only run off a grounder from Marcus Kerr. Brother Zack Yeckley made that run hold up with a dominant performance on the mound. The fireballer allowed four hits and struck out 11 as the Streaks scored a 1-0 victory against the host Chieftains.

Zack Yeckley said his team’s early run powered his performance.

“Getting that run the first inning definitely set the tone for us and gave me a lot of confidence going in,” he said. “I just thought, the control was iffy at times, but I thought I was a bulldog out there. I just continued to mix up my pitches and locate that fastball inside, outside, wherever it needed to be. I had the curveball moving here and there. I think the key was, as I continued to pitch, I think I got stronger and that was a big time factor in the game.”

After the game, all those involved admitted a low scoring game was expected with Yeckley dueling against Hopewell-Loudon’s Garrett Sendelbach. But, none expected a 1-0 final.

“I knew it was going to be a low-scoring game,” Chieftain coach Brian Rothrock said. “I didn’t see either one of the team’s bats going wild or anything, but it’s huge. Fundamental plays are key as well. It starts out with that double, then we misplay a ball a little bit and it sort of hurts.”

Yeckley said he knew the potential the Chieftains have in their lineup to put up a bunch of runs in a hurry and was hoping his team could’ve put some more on the board.

“Hopewell’s known to bash runs on a team,” he said. “I knew, we got one in the first, we got to keep going. But I would’ve bet against it being 1-0 that’s for sure going into the seventh. But, I love these type of game and I’m glad we got the win tonight. I’m just super excited for our team and for our coach (Robert George). His first year here, going to districts, that’s exciting too.”

George said he was looking for more runs, not thinking the one would be enough. In the second with runners on first and third with two outs, he tried to force a rundown to create a run.

“No, no I didn’t think that was going to be enough,” he said. “We had a couple of times, actually four innings we had guys on second and third and we couldn’t get them across. We had a play where it should’ve been a rundown play. The runner just continued to go and we lost our run there. Once that happen, yeah I was kind of nervous. You want to be comfortable with three or more runs. For me that’s comfortable when you have Zack pitching.”

As good as Yeckley was, Sendelbach matched him. After the leadoff double, the Chieftain sophomore didn’t allow another hit until the sixth inning.

Sendelbach went a full seven innings allowing just four hits and the one run, while striking out five.

“He came out there and he kept battling and kept doing what he needed to do and that’s what he’s done all year long,” Rothrock said. “We’ve been able to muster a little more offense the rest of the year than tonight.”

A true competitor, Yeckley said going against Sendelbach powered him to be his best.

“To be honest, these are the type of games I love right here,” Yeckley said. “Pitchers’ duels going back and forth at it like that, that’s when it’s fun; that’s when you know games just seem to fly by. That’s great baseball. I tip my hat to Sendelbach, he did an excellent job out there. For being a sophomore, he’s got a bright future ahead of him, but today I was a little bit better and a little bit stronger then, and you know what, I’m glad it turned out our way.”

George said the plan was to only throw Yeckley the first five innings before turning to closer Bennett Weickert. But the situation, as well as Yeckley’s performance, changed his mind.

“Me and coach Josh Delp were talking about that as the innings were going on. We said, ‘Well we can put him in for five innings then we’ll bring in Bennett.’ We didn’t need Bennett because he was still strong. He threw 138, 140 pitches and he still had it. We don’t like doing that. We like only going 100 pitches, but he still had it, and the type of game that it was he wanted it, so we gave it to him and he did show that he can do it.”

St. Joe moves on to a district semifinal at Marathon Diamonds in Findlay against the winner of today’s sectional final between New Riegel and Riverdale.

Hopewell-Loudon’s tournament run comes to an end, but the season is far from over for the Chieftains. They still are tied for the Midland Athletic League lead and control their own destiny for a league title.

“We got our No. 1 goal still to go,” Rothrock said. “Our No. 1 goal on our chart is the MAL championship. I said ‘You guys got to realize that we’re still on top of the MAL right now. and you win out you still win the MAL championship.’ That’s our No. 1 goal right now. … Obviously you want to win tournaments, you want to begin that journey and go as far as you possibly can in tournaments, but we got other goals we don’t want to overlook at this point.”