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VANDALIA – For Johnnie Clift, being a part of last season’s championship team in the Egyptian-Illini Conference Tournament was a thrill.
Now a senior, he wants to lead Patoka to back-to-back titles.
Clift will have that opportunity on Thursday night, when the top-seeded Warriors meet No. 2 Brownstown/St. Elmo at 7 p.m. to decide the championship at Vandalia Mutual Field in a rematch of a 1-0 Patoka win from Sept. 11.
That day, Clift was the winner, tossing all seven innings and allowing just three hits, replacing injured ace Clinton Hood in an unexpected start on three days rest.
“I had them off-balance last time, so I’ll have to do that again,” Clift said. “We had good defense, so if we keep the ball in play, I believe we can win.”
Brownstown/St. Elmo coach Ryan Beccue said that Clift’s competitive nature and experience makes him a menace on the mound, but he expects his players to produce better offensively, especially after a 26-1 win in the tournament semifinals.
Senior Jacob Behrends will start for the Bombers on Thursday, but they also have senior Levi Maxey available in relief after he threw less than 40 pitches during the semifinals.
Regardless of the opposing pitcher, Patoka coach Joey Eddy expects Clift to take the mound and seize the victory.
“He is really turning the corner as a pitcher,” Eddy said. “Before, he would go out there, give you innings and compete, but he has a pitcher’s mentality now, where he wants to be better than the other team and win.
“You go back to the first game (against BSE) – he knew that game was for the conference championship of his senior year, and he won it.”
Neither coach said they expect another 1-0 game, but with aces on the hill, it could still prove to be a low-scoring game.
And for the Bombers, that means there is one thing they must do better than last time.
“We have to get a timely hit,” Beccue said. “Our pitching and defense was outstanding the first time, but so was their’s.
“I don’t know if it will be 1-0 again,” he said, “but whoever executes better is going to win.”
Maxey was the starter in the first game against Patoka, allowing just six hits and striking out seven, and Behrends is capable of piecing together an equal or better outing.
“We have always hit Behrends well, but he is pitching great this fall,” Eddy said. “He has held some good teams in check, so it’ll be a challenge.”
Behrends is 2-3 on the season, but his losses have come to St. Anthony, South Central and Windsor/Stew-Stras, three of the best teams BSE has played this fall.
Now, he will look to even his record against another strong team.
“I know that anytime Jake and Levi go out on the mound they will try to give us the best effort they can,” Beccue said. “Jake has run into some good teams, so his record isn’t what it could be.”