Tigers earn berth in ‘Sweet 16’
ATHENS — Everyone associated with the Marietta High baseball team remembers what happened in the district championship game last season.
A heart-breaking 1-0 loss to Athens ended the Tigers’ postseason run, so coming into this season, winning a district title was one of Marietta’s main goals.
“We were here last year on this night and we were pretty upset with ourselves losing the opportunity to be district champions,” said Marietta head coach Jim Thrash.
The Tigers got their redemption Wednesday night at Bob Wren Stadium in Athens, taking down Unioto 9-2 for their first district championship since 1998 and fifth in program history. Brandon Schamp struck out 12 batters in seven innings, and Marietta overcame three errors by taking advantage of Unioto’s six.
“Tonight, I won’t say we played our best ball game this season, but again, we’ve proven we’re going to take advantage of what our opponents give us,” Thrash said. “We’re very opportunistic as a team.”
After no-hitting Meigs to give MHS a sectional crown, Schamp limited the Sherman Tanks (20-7) to two runs on five hits. He struggled early, loading the bases with no outs in the first, but limited the damage to one run to keep his team well within striking distance.
“Maybe butterflies, maybe getting too excited,” said Schamp, who is 9-1 on the mound in his senior campaign. “I just tried to calm down, let my fielders do the work and try to eliminate as much as I could.”
Unioto’s Ryan Sigler was pretty sharp too, although the Tigers quickly erased the 1-0 deficit in the first.
Turner Hill’s leadoff triple was followed by Trent Dawson’s run-scoring ground ball to tie things up. Danny Hiser later singled in Zach Deskins to make it 2-1.
Marietta, which has 10 seniors on its roster, won its 15th straight game to improve to 24-3.
“They’re a veteran group,” Thrash said. “They’ve been playing together since they were eight years old, and they know how to win.”
Neither team scored again until the fifth when the Shermans tied it up at 2-all. With runners on the corners and two outs, Gavin Ogan’s sharp liner to short was played on a hop by Isaac Danford. Danford’s hot throw to second was dropped, allowing Clay Edler to cross the plate.
Being a veteran team, the Tigers have learned to have a short memory.
“It’s the perseverance of the group, the character they have to know you have to play the next pitch, the next out, the next inning and shake off whatever mistake you made,” Thrash said. “Schamp picked up the guys when they made mistakes in the field and they picked him up by making good plays in the field after he’s walked a leadoff batter. Everybody doing everything they can to have each other’s back.”
It didn’t take long for Marietta to regain the lead. With Jared Hollister on second and two away, Brandon Neville smacked a ball at the second baseman that was misplayed, sending Hollister around and making the score 3-2.
Schamp responded with a 1-2-3 sixth to keep momentum in Marietta’s favor.
“A real gutsy performance on his part,” Thrash said. “Wasn’t the best he’s ever pitched, but he pitched well enough to win a district championship game. He can hang his hat on that for a long time.”
Added Schamp, “I felt like I had everything going.”
The wheels came off for Unioto in the bottom of the sixth as Marietta scored six runs. Derek Duckworth drew a bases-loaded walk to make it 4-2, chasing Sigler from the game. Reliever Nick Ooten’s wild pitch allowed Hiser to score, and later Hill’s two-run single broke it open to make it 7-2. Neville capped the rally with a sacrifice fly to drive in Hill.
“We wanted more,” Schamp said. “Wanted a lot more. We came here and dropped one last year. This time, we were just so focused and pulled through.”
Hill had the only multi-hit game for Marietta, while Casey White had two hits for the Sherman Tanks.
As fate would have it, the Tigers’ next opponent will be the same team which ousted them from the tournament a year ago. Athens defeated Warren 6-1 earlier Wednesday, setting up a Bulldogs-Tigers rematch in next Thursday’s regional semifinal at Gant Memorial Stadium in Zanesville. Marietta beat Athens 4-1 the only time they faced each other in the regular season.
“We’re far capable of playing even better baseball than we played tonight,” Thrash said. “Against Athens, we know what it’s going to take. We would have been very happy to play Warren in that game in a Washington County challenge, but these kids have something to prove to Athens.”
First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.
“We’re a good team and we’re going to go try and win a state championship,” Schamp said. “That’s what we’re here for.”