ALBANY, Ohio — Chace Harris and the Alexander Spartans have been chasing the Meigs Marauders all spring.
With one final swing of Harris’ bat on Friday, the Spartans officially passed the Marauders on the road to the Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division baseball championship.
Harris, in addition to pitching an epic complete-game one-hit shutout, had the game-winning — and perhaps league-championship clinching — hit, as the Spartans nudged the Marauders 1-0 in a nine-inning nail-biter at Alexander High School.
Scoreless through all seven innings, and through the eighth and into the ninth, the contest appeared destined for a 10th — especially with Meigs ace pitcher Chase Whitlatch on the mound.
Whitlatch, relieving Marauder starter Cody Bartrum after Bartrum’s workhorse seven and two-thirds shutout stanzas, retired the opening two Spartans in the ninth.
But back-to-back basehits by Lukas Thompson and Mason Chapman put Alexander into scoring position, then Harris’ deep double to center scored Thompson to officially put the Spartans into first-place in the TVC-Ohio.
Actually, the Spartans — now 14-6 overall and 8-2 division — are tied for the top spot with Wellston, which did its part on Friday in capturing an 11-9 come-from-behind win over River Valley.
While Wellston and Alexander have two TVC-Ohio tilts remaining, including against each other on Monday at Alexander, the Marauders have completed conference play at 9-3.
Meigs is now 17-5 overall, and saw its wire-to-wire run atop the league come to an end in Albany.
The best the Marauders can do at this point is share the conference championship, but they need massive help from both River Valley (at Alexander on Tuesday) and Athens (at Wellston this week) in order to do that.
“Now we have to sit back and watch. Listen for scores,” said Meigs coach Brent Bissell. “We had our opportunity to at least get a piece of it (TVC-Ohio title) Wednesday night (a 6-5 loss against Wellston) and we didn’t finish it then either. I always preach to our kids to give ourselves a chance the last week of the league season. We had opportunities tonight and it just wasn’t our night. It was two great teams battling it out for the championship. I’m proud of our kids for playing hard, hanging in there and battling, but they (Spartans) just made one more play than we did.”
Actually, the Marauders simply couldn’t hit Harris on Friday.
In the two clubs’ initial meeting on April 11 at Meigs, Harris allowed two first-inning runs — which held up for a 2-0 shutout with Whitlatch dominating on the mound.
On Friday, Harris retired the opening 11 Marauders he faced — before Whitlatch walked in the fourth, Layne Acree was hit by a pitch in the fifth and Christian Mattox walked in the sixth.
But Harris stranded Whitlatch at second, before the Spartans erased Acree as part of a double play and Mattox was caught stealing.
Finally, with two outs in the seventh, Bartrum reached on Alexander’s only error and Acree singled for the Marauders’ only hit, but Harris induced a groundout right back to him to end the inning.
Harris then retired the Marauders 1-2-3 in the eighth and ninth, as he struck out nine — including two apiece in the seventh and eighth.
“He (Harris) just kept us off-balance because his curve-ball was working real well for him,” said Bissell. “We just have to see it out of the hand and follow it all the way. His fastball is really good, but his curve-ball kept us off-balance. Hats off to him, he did a phenomenal job just like he did down at our place. But it just takes that one hit. That’s what it was for us last time, this time it’s one hit for them.”
And, Harris was responsible for that hit, along with singles in the fourth and eighth innings — sandwiched around an intentional walk in the sixth.
Bartrum battled right with Harris well into the eighth, allowing five hits and three walks with 10 strikeouts, and retiring the Spartans 1-2-3 in the second and third.
The only other Alexander hits off Bartrum were a Thompson single in the first, a Taylor Kimbrough single in the seventh and a Cory Chapman single in the eighth.
He walked Kimbrough in the fifth and hit Thompson with a pitch in the sixth, and walked Jordan Colburn to load the bases in the seventh.
“It was a great pitching duel. Cody did a phenomenal job for us,” said Bissell. “He hasn’t made too many starts for us, but he pitched really really well for us tonight.”
At that point, though, Whitlatch relieved Bartrum — and escaped the bases-loaded jam by inducing a popout to Luke Musser at shortstop.
In all, Bartrum stranded 11 Spartans — seven of which were in scoring position.
However, Harris got the walk-off off Whitlatch with two outs in the ninth — on a shot to straight-away centerfield.
With that, the Spartans knocked the Marauders off the top of the TVC-Ohio perch.
Meigs, which was scheduled to travel to Philo on Saturday for a non-league doubleheader, ventures to non-league Jackson on Monday.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106