Clay baseball turns the tables to win Three Rivers

J. Patrick Eaken

Clay baseball accomplished a first this year — they were the first public school to win a Three Rivers Athletic Conference baseball championship.

Clay, which finished 22-6 overall, shared the title with Division I final four state qualifier St. John’s (24-7) as both teams ended 12-2 in the league.  

In his eighth year coaching at his alma mater, Jim Phillips is Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press Co-Coach of the Year, sharing the honor with Eastwood coach Kevin Leady. For his career, Phillips is an accumulated 112-73, crossing the 100-win mark this season.

It came down to the Eagles’ final game of the year against Central Catholic — a game that had been rescheduled because Central spent a couple weeks under quarantine.

“St. John’s was done, so we had to win that game to tie them. Down the stretch, and hats off to St. John’s as well, every game we had to win,” Phillips said. “Every other day it seemed one of us was playing a league game, and if you lose one that could be it. You don’t know that you are out of it, but you lose your control over it. So both teams down the stretch stayed locked in and competed.”

Jackson Kennedy’s three-run double got the Eagles off to a 3-0 lead and Clay cruised to a 6-2 victory over Central to earn the title share on the artificial turf at Mercy Field.

“Obviously, it is satisfying when you win a competitive league. From what I can look at, four of the eight teams had 20 wins which had not happened in years. Obviously that means a lot, and after last year, not having a season it was great just to be able to compete again. To give these seniors an opportunity to finish their senior season on the field was an outstanding thing to get to have happen,” Phillips said.

“I think it was a really good group of kids. I think they genuinely enjoyed being around each other on a daily basis. It makes it easy to coach and obviously there are a lot of talented kids on the team as well. But I think team chemistry was the biggest thing. I think from day one they played for each other and they stayed together as a group. The baseball season can be a lot of ups and downs and they continued throughout the season to really play well collectively as a group.”

Phillips is proud of the way his team faced TRAC opponents. The Eagles’ only league losses were to St. John’s and Findlay, while St. John’s league losses were to Central and Clay.

“We had a lot of big wins which is kind of nice. We beat St. Francis twice, we beat Central twice, we split with St. John’s, losing one in extra innings, and we split with Findlay in the league and then lost to them in the district final,” Phillips said.

One of the team’s biggest wins was early in the season when the Eagles defeated Bowling Green, 12-3, in a non-league game. The Bobcats pitched 6-foot-2 sophomore pitcher Nate Kress, who was giving opponents fits late in the season and has caught the attention of college scouts with his velocity and slider.

“He has a chance to be really good — that is for sure,” Phillips said. “We saw him game one, so as a sophomore, to be honest, we talked to ‘Schultzy’ (BG assistant coach Bob Schultz) after the game and we knew he was going to be pretty good. He was a little nervous, a little wild, but you could tell he was pretty darn good for sure.”

The Eagles also lost a 4-3 game to the state’s No. 4-ranked Division I team, Anthony Wayne (24-5), at Fifth Third Field when the Generals, trailing 3-2, got a walk-off hit by junior Chase Saneholtz. Clay hurlers Andrew Naugle, Trevor Jurski and Ethan Spears kept the Generals in check while junior first baseman Donovan Coughlin’s led the Eagles’ seven-hit attack with two base hits.

Four Clay players are All-Press first team — Coughlin, senior outfielder Logan Heintschel, junior pitcher Jonathan Marsico and Jurski. Jurski, the team’s senior ace who will play at Notre Dame College, was 7-2 with a 2.49 ERA in 53 innings.

“Obviously, he was that guy who pitched in the bulk of our big games. He was 6-1 in the league, so he threw half of our league games and earned decisions,” Phillips said.

Marsico filled a role that is usually filled by committee on high school teams, and he did so effectively.

“It was kind of goofy this year because we thought we never really had a bona fide closer, so to speak,” Phillips said. “Jon Marsico ended up throwing 37 innings, predominantly out of the bullpen and he ended up 2-0 and 8-for-8 in save opportunities. He led the team in ERA with a 0.375 ERA and just missed the school record — he almost broke Roger Achter’s school record (0.34, 1979). Also, he will be in the state record books for saves in a season and saves in a career because that is a relatively new stat, so he will be in the top five for both.”

Also sparking the team on the mound was sophomore pitcher Anthony Barnes, who was 5-1 with a 1.89 ERA in leading the team to wins over St. John’s, St. Francis and Central.

Heintschel, batting in the two-spot, was third in the TRAC in hitting with a .416 average (32 for 77) and 18 RBIs. He led the team with 32 runs, 32 hits, and 22 walks.

“He did a really good job being one of the sparkplugs for our offense,” Phillips said. “He led the team in the majority of the hitting categories. He just really had an offensive season at the plate for us and at the top of the lineup was consistently on base for sure.”

Coughlin hit .355 and second team All-Press catcher Jackson Kennedy batted .351 and led the Eagles with eight doubles. In addition, second team All-Press senior outfielder Ethan Spears will play next year at Ohio Northern University and second team senior third baseman Bryce Sutton will play at Mount Union College.

Despite three seniors heading on to play collegiately, and other seniors who could if they wanted to, Phillips will have plenty of talent returning to help defend the title next year.

“We are returning 10, so I think it will be a little bit different this year coming up because we will have a target on the back a little bit as compared to previous years,” Phillips said. “But that comes with the territory. I’ll be honest, we usually get everybody’s best pitcher anyways. 

“I think the nice thing is St. John’s going to the final four will still let us fly under the radar a little bit. They had an outstanding year, but we’ve definitely caught some people’s attention with the people coming back. We have a nice chance to do some nice things for sure.”



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