First-year Clay baseball coach Garry Isbell called it “one of the wackiest games I've been involved with.”
The Eagles, the No. 3 seed in the City League final four tournament, trailed second-seeded Central Catholic 6-2 in the semifinals but used a three-run sixth inning to pull within 6-5. That's when all heck broke loose for defending league champion Clay.
“They come out in the bottom of the sixth and get nine runs on nine hits,” Isbell said. “I don't think they had hit the ball out of the infield at that point. It seemed like a nightmare. There wasn't anything our kids didn't do well. Our pitchers threw strikes, but Central started hitting the ball. A single here, a double there and a couple walks and they just erupted. I take my hat off to them.”
The Irish's 15-5 victory propelled them to the CL championship game, where they beat top-seeded St. John's Jesuit 8-1 last Monday. Central also handed Clay an 8-4 extra-inning loss during the regular season.
The Eagles, who finished 13-14 and 8-3 in the CL, graduate seven seniors from this year's team: center fielder Greg Shanks, catcher/pitcher Austin Petroff, first baseman/pitcher Jordan Wamer, right fielder Matt Wasserman, pitchers Zach Cowell and Andrew Dartt, and utility player Matt Toth.
Shanks, Wamer and Petroff, the team's No. 2 pitcher, were full-time starters. Wamer and Petroff are second-team all-district selections.
“Petroff hit .369 and Wamer hit .344, and they hit fifth and sixth in our lineup the whole year,” Isbell said. “They were the nucleus of our hitting order. They both ended up hitting .423 in our league overall and they're a huge reason why we went 8-3.
“Austin gave us a lot of productive innings on the hill and ended up 3-0. Shanks hit .344 in the City League. He only hit .221 overall, but he's definitely in a long list of great center fielders that came through Clay. He ran down a lot of balls for us and made some spectacular plays for us. He was the general of our outfield.”
Isbell, who replaced Karl Knierim as head coach (Knierim remained on staff as an assistant), said his first year as a head coach had its interesting moments.
“As far as the baseball goes, that aspect came fairly easy, as I thought it would,” he said. “The administration part of being a head coach, that was a curveball thrown at me. I handled it and got thrown into it, so next year I will know what to do in different situations. I had a blast. It's a job I wanted and a job I enjoyed. I'm looking forward to many more years continuing this job.
“Whenever you see seniors graduate, that's tough, and this is the first senior class I will see graduate as a head coach. I wanted to see them repeat as City League champions, but nobody can take from them the fact we won the City championship last year. Those guys will always have a banner hanging in their gym when they come through there.”
Two Clay players, junior left fielder Austin Achter and junior pitcher/infielder Jesse Castilleja, earned first-team all-district honors.
Achter led the team in batting average (.444), RBI (24), runs (26), hits (36), and stolen bases (12) and he also had five five triples and three home runs. Castilleja hit .303 with 20 RBI and three home runs “and he pitched in our big games,” Isbell said. Castilleja was 3-6 on the mound with a 3.75 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 39.2 innings.
The Eagles' other returning players next season include junior shortstop Nick Sheehan, junior outfielder/DH Sam Berry (.326), junior infielder/pitcher Jake Bedra, sophomore third baseman J.J. Miller (.303), sophomore outfielder/pitcher Ross Achter and freshman pitcher Jordan Grosjean.
“Our strength coming back next year will be our pitching,” Isbell said. “We're going to have Castilleja, Ross Achter, Jordan Grosjean and Jake Bedra, and every one of those kids had a decent to above average year at the plate. I'm very optimistic about next year being a very successful year for us. If the kids put the work in during the offseason - and I'm sure they will - I think we'll have a successful season.”