ALTAMONT – Dylen Peters admittedly didn’t have his finest control during last Saturday’s regional championship game.
But the South Central junior had about everything else, including a defense behind him that did not commit an error and helped him get out of several jams.
Peters struck out nine in an eight-inning complete game, senior Tyler Ross roped a two-run double in the top of the eighth and the Cougars picked up their fourth straight victory and third straight regional title with a 3-1 win against North Clay and ace pitcher Adam Cox.
“Going in, I knew who we were facing, and we knew he was going to do what he did today,” Jones said of Cox’s complete-game four-hitter. “Dylen had to pitch like he did today, and this is, by far, his best performance of the spring.
“This is what he is capable of, but not what he has given us all spring,” he said. “He got out of jam after jam, and got some big strikeouts.”
Peters ended five innings with a strikeout, and in three of them, North Clay had a runner on third base.
He also picked off a runner on third base for the second out in the third inning. Peters (2-4) scattered five hits and walked four, and North Clay hitters put just six balls in the outfield.
“I feel like I did pretty decent. I feel like today was one of my better games,” Peters said. “Yes, I was a little inconsistent, but I got guys to swing at pitches that were a little high or a little low.”
His nine strikeouts were a season-high in his second win against the Cardinals (20-10-1) this season. He had six strikeouts on April 22, the first of two six-strikeout performances on the season.
With two outs and junior Dylan Smith on second base in the top of the eighth, North Clay elected to intentionally walk the hot-hitting Noah Powless to bring up Ross, who had not hit a ball out of the infield in his first three at-bats.
After working the count full, Ross stroked the next pitch to the right-centerfield gap for a two-run double.
“I was just looking for a pitch to hit, and it came right down the center,” Ross said. “It came off the bat solidly, and I saw it going into the gap.”
Ross struck out in the second inning, hit into a double play on a sharp liner to Cox in the fourth and hit an infield fly in the sixth.
But by extending the count, Ross was able to find his first hit since the first inning of the regional semifinals.
“You’d like to hope that he does that, but that’s not always realistic with the type of pitching we saw today,” Jones said. “It takes a big hit at the right time, and that two-run cushion is more comfortable than a one-run one.”
Peters allowed two walks and two hits in the fifth-seventh innings, with Dylan Walker tying the game at 1-1 on a fielder’s choice in the sixth.
Because he expected North Clay’s hitters to be taking the first pitch of each at-bat, since Peters had thrown a ball on the first pitch of seven of the 13 at-bats leading up to the eighth, Jones instructed Peters to throw a first-pitch strike to each hitter.
“I was thinking that they would be taking a strike, and I pounded it into (catcher Brett Harmeier’s) head to set up right down the middle on the first pitch,” Jones said. “If they hit it, they hit it, but we’re not going to fool around.”
Peters walked the first batter of the inning on four pitches, but struck out the next two and worked ahead of the final two batters, inducing a weak grounder to the mound for the final out.
Cox was perfect through the first three innings, but got into trouble in the fourth.
Sophomore Gavin Raterman reached on an error to open the inning, and Smith followed with a double for the Cougars (12-15).
Senior Kyle Bray walked to load the bases, and Powless struck a single to second for the first run of the game.
The Cardinals made their first serious threat in the bottom of that frame, leading off the inning with a Cox double and following with a Hunter Clifton single.
Cox, however, was thrown out at home on an aggressive base running play that was negated by perfect defensive execution from the Cougars.
“The defense has to make plays, and there were several good plays,” Peters said. “That relay throw was a game-changer.
“Gavin threw it right to Kyle, and Kyle threw a strike to Brett and got him out.”
A wild pitch would have allowed Cox to score, but the outfield assist kept North Clay’s sixth-inning run from becoming the game-deciding run.
“Those are big situations,” Jones said. “Why he sent him with nobody out, I guess is because we both knew runs would be hard to come by.
“That’s a play we practice every day,” he said. “You don’t get to use it very often, but it sure came up big today.”
The regional title is South Central’s 12th since 2000. Missing championship years were 2002 and 2011.
Saturday’s win advanced the Cougars to the North Clay Sectional, where on Wednesday they met Dieterich, with the winner moving on to this Saturday’s 1 p.m. championship game.
South Central beat Dieterich, 12-5, on May 16. The other semifinal matchup is on Thursday between Edwards County and Windsor/Stew-Stras
“It’s something that we shoot for every single year,” Jones said. “We’ve talked about this from day one in the fall – we’re looking to get better to compete for the regional in the spring.
“This is where the memories are made, and today, I think they made a good one.”
Saturday, May 24
South Central 3
North Clay 1
WP: Peters (2-4); 8 IP, 9 K
LP: Cox; 8 IP, 7 K
Cougars: Ross, 1-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI; Powless, 1-for-2, RBI, run, BB, IBB; Smith, 1-for-3, 2B, run, SB, HBP; Bray, 1-for-3, BB; Ratermann, BB, run.
Thursday, May 22
South Central 9
WP: Powless (4-4); 2 2/3 IP, 0 K
LP: Ziegler; 4 IP, 5 K
Cougars: Smith, 2-for-4, HR, RBI; Powless, 1-for-4, HR, 2 RBI; Bray, 1-for-1, HR, 2 RBI, 3 BB; Ross, 1-for-3, 2 RBI.