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The South Central baseball team has sent a clear message to its Midland Trail Conference foes early in the fall season - the road to the MTC title still goes through Kinmundy.
And, as an up-and-coming Louisville-North Clay team found out Tuesday night, that road is a particularly treacherous one when Tanner Bushue is on the mound.
Playing under the lights at Lions Field, Bushue came up with a prime-time performance in a game with huge conference championship implications, hurling a one-hitter and fanning 17 in a 7-0 Cougars win.
Bushue's masterpiece moved South Central to 8-1-1 overall and 4-0 in league play.
North Clay - which is expected to challenge the nine-time defending MTC champion Cougars for the league title this fall - fell to 5-3 overall and 3-1 in conference play.
Despite the lopsided final score, there were some moments of doubt for Bushue and the Cougars.
The game remained scoreless through the first three innings, and North Clay broke up Bushue's bid for a perfect game and a no-hitter with a walk and a single to start the fourth.
Following a strikeout, a one-out walk loaded the bases, but Bushue escaped the jam by striking out the next two batters.
The Cougars bats then came alive, as they scored three runs in the bottom of the frame and four more in the fifth.
Kyle Monical had an RBI single to highlight the fourth-inning rally, while Ryan Gesell's two-run single highlighted the fifth-inning barrage.
Tyler Gillett and Gesell led an eight-hit South Central attack with two hits apiece.
Neoga 9, South Central 9
The Cougars completed a comeback from an early 9-3 deficit in the nick of time, as their four-run sixth-inning rally tied the game moments before heavy rain ended the game in a draw.
Dylan Sill's two-run homer capped the comeback. Isaac Grapperhaus got things going with a two-run double.
South Central 3,
Gillett allowed just two hits and one earned run in six innings, leading the Cougars to a win at the Louisville-North Clay Showcase.
Bushue struck out the side in the seventh for his second save, as South Central provided just enough offensive support.
Justin Armstrong finished 2-for-4 with an RBI to lead the Cougars offensively.