By Josh Brown
TIPP CITY — There’s plenty of different ways the Tippecanoe baseball team can win games this season, plenty of different weapons they can use.
But there’s one thing that the Red Devils have been able to lean on all season — their pitching.
Mason McClurg limited a potent Kenton Ridge lineup to only two hits and one run through 5 1-3 innings — and helped out his own cause with a go-ahead two-out RBI single in the fourth inning — and Ian Yunker slammed the door shut by striking his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth then struck out the side in the seventh as Tippecanoe (15-1) held on for a 3-1 victory Saturday at Tippecanoe Middle School.
McClurg got the win, striking out three, walking four and giving up two hits and one run. Yunker then struck out five, walked one and gave up a hit in 1 2-3 innings to earn a save.
“Pitching’s been the key all year,” Tippecanoe coach Bruce Cahill said. “Mason’s our No. 4, and he threw well last Friday (a 10-2 win over West Carrollton). He wasn’t as sharp as that game today, but he’s a battler. He competes, and that’s what gets him through innings sometimes. And Ian, he’s just clutch. He just throws strikes and pounds the zone.”
The Devils were coming off of a critical victory on Friday at Fairborn as Kenton Egbert got his first start for the team, striking out 12 in a 3-0 shutout that made Tippecanoe 8-0 in Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division play.
“Egbert got his first start last night. He just joined us because of the open-enrollment transfer rule, and he goes out, strikes out 12 and throws a shutout in his first start,” Cahill said. “And then (Zach) Losey … we’ve probably got the best velocity pitching staff we’ve ever had, as well as kids that can throw their offspeed stuff for strikes. That’s what’s helped the most, really.”
Saturday’s matchup against Kenton Ridge (9-3) came with some history, too — recent history, at that.
Tippecanoe and Kenton Ridge were division rivals for years before the Devils made the move to the GWOC last season. And even though they won last year’s regular season matchup 9-0, the Devils — who had been favored to make a deep tournament run — were upset by the Cougars 5-2 in the sectional final, cutting their season unexpectedly short.
“It’s always good playing these guys,” Cahill said. “We laid an egg last year in that game. They’ve always been a quality program, and they’re well coached. It’s a nice rivalry — they beat us, we beat them and no one gets too angry. it’s a good program. And it feels good to get a win. We lost nine seniors from last year, seven of them started. These guys have come in and done a great job.”
Saturday, the Devils got off to a very literal fast start.
Leadoff hitter Miles McClurg — who leads the GWOC American North Division in stolen bases, entering the game with 16 — laid down a bunt and reached on an error, stole second base and took third on a wild pitch. Cole Barhorst then drove him in with an RBI groundout, giving Tippecanoe a 1-0 lead after one.
“Miles, he hit the ball probably 60 feet total today, but he just causes havoc,” Cahill said. “He’s the catalyst for us. They could play in on the grass and still, he just runs so well.
“Whether it’s bunting or stealing bases, getting guys in scoring position, our speed helps. And Cole Barhorst had a great at-bat in the first inning, working to a 3-2 count and fouling off a couple, then he hits that ground ball to the right side — when you score in the first inning, it’s amazing what that does. Your pitcher can relax a little bit.”
The Cougars tied the score in the second, though, as Matt Tateman cashed in a leadoff walk by hitting an RBI double over the left fielder’s head. But that would be all Kenton Ridge could muster on the day.
The Devils, meanwhile, got clutch hitting in the fourth inning to retake the lead. Clay Barhorst singled up the middle with two out and stole second base to get into scoring position, then Mason McClurg knocked an RBI single through the hole at short to make it a 2-1 game.
“They were trying to pick our kid at second, which opened that hole up — and he hit it right through,” Cahill said. “That was just taking advantage of what they gave us there.”
Kenton Ridge did threaten again in the sixth, but what could have been a big inning was cut short before it began, really. The leadoff batter reached on a throwing error — but he tried to take second on the throw, and Tippecanoe catcher Cole Barhorst, who was backing up the play, gunned him out at second for the first out.
“We talk about the little things all the time. They’re probably sick of me saying those two words,” Cahill said. “That’s what happened there. And sometimes kids just take off on their own. They think ‘that’s ball was overthrown. I’m taking second’ — and they forget about that catcher doing his job. That was big.”
The next batter singled and that was followed with a walk, and that was when Mason McClurg’s time on the mound ended. Yunker issued a walk to load the bases, but then he struck out the next two batters to get out of trouble with no damage.
Tippecanoe then played an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth, as Josh Riebe led off with a double, took third on a wild pitch and scored on an RBI sac fly by Clay Barhorst to make it 3-1. And even though Kenton Ridge got a one-out double off of Yunker in the top of the seventh, he struck out the other three batters he faced in the inning to end the game.
All of that sets up the biggest series of the season for the Red Devils — Tippecanoe faces GWOC American North co-leader Troy on Monday and Tuesday, hosting the Trojans to kick off the series. Both teams are currently 8-0 in the division after Troy swept defending champion Butler earlier in the week.
“That’s the reason we’re playing. We’re in a position to do something,” Cahill said. “I was actually rooting for Troy in those two games. I didn’t want them to split. I didn’t want to wait two weeks (when Tippecanoe faces Butler) to take care of business, I want the chance to do it now. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it. That’s where we are.
“I don’t know if three runs will be enough against them.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.