ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Tom Sliva knew this season would be a process for his youthful Red Devils.
He was correct in that way of thinking.
However, he also felt confident that his club would have a strong chance of prevailing each night junior southpaw Michael "Zuke" Jacob took the hill.
ST. C’S Michael “Zuke” Jacob drops down a perfect sacrifice bunt during the third inning of Friday’s game against Buckeye Local at Memorial Park. Jacob also pitched a gem with 11 strikeouts in a complete-game effort. Additional images may be found at cu.timesleaderonline.com
Buckeye Local, which qualified as the third seed to today's OVAC Class 4A Tournament, will confirm Sliva's second thought after Friday's game at Memorial Park.
Fanning 11 and the beneficiary of error-less defense behind him, Jacob was brilliant on the mound in the complete game effort, which resulted in a Red Devils' 4-0 blanking of the Panthers.
"Zuke has been strong for us all season and he did a really nice job again (Friday)," Sliva said. "This was probably one of our best games where we were able to put everything together, so that's a positive sign for us."
Jacob surrendered just three hits; only one was of the extra base variety. He sat down the first 13 he faced in order.
"We're a very good hitting team," lamented Buckeye head coach Rick DeLuca. "The second time through the order, we started hitting the ball better, but we got ourselves into a rut and I think part of that is we came here flat."
Buckeye Local won't be able to afford to get off the bus flat today when its heads to Vacarro Field in Steubenville to lock horns with second-seeded Big Red in the OVAC semifinal.
"I think part of (Friday's) problem was we were looking ahead a little bit and I think our guys came in here too loose," DeLuca said. "I want the guys to be loose, so they play better, but when you take it too easy, it can really cost you, and it did."
The Red Devils' offense, which by no means pounded the ball all over the yard against a pair of Panthers' pitchers, including starter and losing pitcher Shane Duncan, produced a trio of runs in the third.
Walks to two of the first three hitters and a hit batsman loaded the bases in the third. Frosh catcher Luke Slavik then lined a single into left to drive in the game's first run.
Patrick Buchanan then drove in a run and reached base when the Panthers' committed the game's only error. Lead-off hitter Malik Gummer then poked a single into center, driving in the third run.
"We did a nice job of putting the ball in play and moving runners up when we had chances," Sliva said. "There's a lot of things we've been working on since the start of the season and some of it's starting to stick, but we've still got a long way to go."
The Panthers threatened in the fifth when Jacob allowed back-to-back singles to Eric Banal and Jonathan Borkoski. However, Jacob enduced a tailor-made double play to escape the jam.
"I am really happy with our guys," Sliva said. "Zuke couldn't have pitched a better game and our defense really came up big for him."
Buchanan drove in the final run of the game with a perfectly executed squeeze, which he legged out for a hit.
Buckeye Local got a one-out double from Austin Marshall in the seventh, but the unflappable Jacob retired the next two hitters without issue.
St. Clairsville is now 5-11 and is off today. Buckeye Local, which hadn't played since Tuesday, is now 8-9 on the campaign.
Buckeye Local 000 000 0 - 0 3 1
St. Clairsville 000 301 x - 4 6 0
BATTERIES: Duncan, Hopkins (5) and Sokolowski. Jacob and Slavik.
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