By Josh Brown
TROY — Newton coach Jordan Kopp knows exactly what he’s going to get out of Treg Jackson.
After three sectional titles in three years, it’s becoming clear to everyone else, as well.
Jackson struck out 13 and allowed only three Troy Christian hits during Wednesday’s Division IV sectional championship game at Duke Park, leading the second-seeded Indians (26-2) to an 8-1 victory over the upset-minded No. 10 Eagles (10-11) and into a third consecutive district final.
“What Treg does for us, I really can’t put into words,” Kopp said. “This is his third sectional victory. He’s thrown 21 innings — and has given up three runs in those three games. The kid competes like crazy. He’s a great kid, a great teammate.
“The best thing about him is that we didn’t play the best defense behind him, but he battled, we made some key plays when we needed and it was a good victory for everybody.”
Jackson was in control from beginning to end, giving up one unearned run, walking one and hitting a batter, and the defense committed two errors in the game. He threw only 90 pitches, and the final out of the game came on his 13th strikeout.
“You can’t say enough about Treg Jackson,” Kopp said. “He’s got a 0.70 ERA and pounds the zone, is 10-0 on the season, he’s going to have the school record for ERA and probably strikeouts. He’s 5-foot, not tall or big, but he battles like crazy and doesn’t back down from anybody.”
Even he was surprised when told he had only given up three runs in three sectional finals.
“It feels great,” Jackson said. “Basically, I just trust my defense. Knowing that if the other team hits the ball, the defense behind me is going to make the play, get the out and get us back in the dugout to go hit, that’s what it takes. I was ready to play and ready to go — and now I’m ready to see who we play in districts and continue on.”
That opponent will be Russia, which upset top-seeded Lehman 7-4 in 10 innings. Lehman was the No. 2 team in the final D-IV state poll, moving ahead of third-ranked Newton — with the Raiders not being ranked in the top 20.
And after the Indians survived a challenge from Cedarville, winning 4-3 in extra innings in the sectional semifinal, Kopp knew to expect the unexpected, especially with Troy Christian — winners of three straight, including postseason wins over No. 7 Franklin Monroe and No. 5 Bradford — only trailing 3-1 after five innings.
“Give credit to Troy Christian,” Kopp said. “They’ve won a lot of games lately, and they competed. They could’ve folded early in the game when we had bases loaded and one out a couple times. But it’s tournament time, and anything can happen.”
Newton loaded the bases with one out in the top of the first, but Austin Evans popped up a bunt attempt and Troy Christian first baseman Cameron Davee raced in to catch it in the air, then fired to shortstop Jacob Brown to double off a runner at second and keep the game scoreless.
The Indians loaded the bases again in the second and dented the scoreboard with a bloop RBI single from Noah Weaver and a bases-loaded walk by Cole Weaver. But Troy Christian pitcher Peyton Forrer again got out of the jam with the help of a double play as Rhett Gipe lined to second baseman Jon Slone, who doubled off the runner at first to end the inning with the Indians only up 2-0.
“I was a little concerned in about the third inning, after we had the bases loaded in two innings and only had two runs,” Kopp said. “I thought maybe our guys would get a little tight and not play well — but they did the exact opposite. They all battled.”
The Eagles still did not give up, cutting the lead to one after three. Slone led off the top of the third by blasting a ground-rule double over the fence in right, and he moved to third on a single by Andrew Strait with two outs and scored on an error on an attempted pickoff play to make it a 2-1 game.
“No one gave these seniors a chance,” Troy Christian coach Tony Ferraro said. “We came out and beat Franklin Monroe, we beat Dayton Christian, we beat Bradford and we got to this point. My seniors gave me everything they had for the last three years, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The Indians added a run in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI single by Gipe, but the Eagles threatened again in the top of the sixth by putting runners on second and third with two outs. But Jackson was able to buckle down and get a called third strike to get out of the inning — and then the Indians put it away in the bottom of the sixth.
An error, a walk and another error loaded the bases with no outs, and Nate Zielinski, Ryan Mollette and Cole Weaver drew back-to-back-to-back RBI walks to make it a 6-1 game. And with one out, Nelson Clymer put the exclamation point on the inning by hitting a two-run single back up the middle, and the Indians held a comfortable seven-run lead going into the final inning.
“I was a little nervous,” Jackson said when asked about the missed offensive chances early. “But I knew we’d find it. Once we started getting on our groove, we just kept on it. It’s what we’ve been doing all year — and it’s not going to stop now.”
The Eagles got a pair of baserunners in the top of the seventh on a walk and a hit-batter, but Jackson got a strikeout to close out the game.
“It got away from us there in the sixth,” Ferraro said. “We had a tough inning, and without that inning, I think we could’ve competed a little better. But you can’t strike out 13 times. We had a chance to it in the fifth, but there’s a reason they’re No. 3 in the state. They’ve got a good ballclub. Sometimes you’ve just got to tip your hat. I’m giving them the credit.”
Strait was 2 for 3 for the Eagles and Slone doubled and scored. Forrer struck out five, walked six and gave up seven hits and seven runs in five-plus innings of work.
For Newton, Mollette was 2 for 2 with two walks, two runs and an RBI, Cole Weaver was 1 for 2 with two RBIs, Clymer was 2 for 3 with two RBIs, Gipe was 1 for 3 with an RBI, Jackson was 1 for 4 with two runs, Noah Weaver was 1 for 2 with two runs and Nate Zielinski had an RBI.
Newton will face Russia in the district final at 5 p.m. Friday at Springboro High School.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.