By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
For the first three innings Thursday afternoon at Grand Valley Community Park, it appeared a quick start for Jefferson enough to claim the District 1 junior division championship.
Grand Valley, however, pecked away at the deficit until Tyler Butler rapped a single to left to plate a pair for the lead. GV hung on for the 6-3 victory and a trip to the state tourney.
It will play the District 8 champion July 20 at 3 p.m. in Maumee.
The slow start was nothing new to GV.
"It just takes us a while to get into any kind of rhythm," GV coach Sean Cunningham said. "The kids just keep on playing. We know Jefferson has a very good team with talent. Things seemed to snowball on them after a while. Tyler did a great job. He's a good kid who just played strong, like the other kids as well."
Through the first three innings
Grand Valley had only one hitter reach base. Josh Cunningham beat out a grounder deep into the hole at shortstop, stole both second and third and scored the first Grand Valley run on an infield out.
Jefferson’s Tony Gattarello doubled to the fence in left-center to lead off the game. Mason Gillespie followed immediately with a ground ball through the hole between first and second to score Gattarello.
Gillespie stole second and took third on a wild pitch, and with two out, Mason Swiney drew a walk. A pickoff attempt with Gillespie on third and Swiney on first allowed both to move up.
"About the bottom of the fifth, we had a couple overthrows on defense that hurt,” Jefferson manager Mark Gillespie said. That pretty much started our misfortunes, and it got worse the next inning. Our kids did a great job of hitting the ball today. Grand Valley made some good plays. We did, too.
“For kids at this age, once things start to break down, it's easy for them to hang their heads. I told them the game isn't over until the umpire calls the last out, and we gave it our best shot to the very end."
Manufacturing runs was the key. Jefferson hit the ball better in the early going, but Grand Valley stayed aggressive. They took advantage of four walks, five Jefferson errors, including four in the bottom of the sixth as GV pulled further away, and 11 stolen bases got a sputtering GV offense moving enough to score.
"We believe in aggressive baserunning," Sean Cunningham said. "I didn't know we stole that many, but we knew we had to get a few to jumpstart our offense. It worked well."
Josh Cunningham keyed it all with three singles and five steals. Butler's big hit drove home two, Cunningham also tallied three times, and six of the ten GV players stole a base.
Pinch hitter Austin Mathis ignited the rally that set up Butler's game winning single.
He drew a one-out walk and promptly stole second and third, as well. After Blake Hershberger walked and was the back end of a double steal, Butler drilled his hit to left for the lead.
GV tallied another pair of runs in the sixth on Cunningham's third safety and four errors, and the air came out of the Jefferson sails almost completely.
Jefferson leadoff man Austin Norris, walked to lead off the sixth, but was forced at second on a sharp ground ball from the bat of Daniel Sartor. Sartor moved up on a balk, but after Tony Gattarello flied out to center
Sartor was picked off of second base by relief pitcher Logan Sines, and GV had earned a trip to Maumee.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.