Note: This recap appears in the Sunday, May 19 newspaper on Page B1.
The Athens Bulldogs have enjoyed a wealth of pitching all season.
That pitching depth has helped lead to another championship for the program.
Jack Cornwell pitched a complete game on Thursday, leading No. 2 Athens to a 5-2 victory over No. 3 Zane Trace in a Division II sectional final held at Rannow Field.
Cornwell’s effort was the second complete game of the tournament for Athens, which saw Nate Trainer throw a five-inning no-hitter against Vinton County on Tuesday.
Cornwell and Trainer’s efforts allowed Athens to improve to 19-6, and win its fourth sectional championship in a row.
“It makes it great,” Athens coach Todd Nuzum said of his 1-2 pitching punch. “Stick one guy out there and he goes the distance. Jack, put the ball in his hands today and he pitched unbelievable.”
Cornwell held Zane Trace (20-8) to seven hits, striking out one and walking two.
The lefty had the Pioneers off balanced most of the night.
“The off-speed was all there,” Cornwell said. “Fastball was pretty good, but the off-speed was where I liked it.”
Zane Trace wasn’t able to enjoy the same pitching luxury. It used its top two pitchers — Chad Ison and Camden Farley — in Tuesday’s 6-4 tournament win over Gallia Academy.
Neither was available on Thursday due to pitch-count restrictions, so the Pioneers sent freshman Ben Nichols to the mound.
Nichols would take the loss, giving up four runs on 11 hits in 3 2-3 innings. Zane Trace ultimately needed three pitchers to get through the game.
However, it took Athens a few innings to get to Nichols. The Bulldogs left six runners on base in the first three innings.
That changed in the bottom of the fourth. Peyton Gail and Nick Barga singled with one out, and advanced to second and third on a wild pitch.
Andrew Stephens gave Athens the lead, 2-1, on an RBI ground ball to second.
That’s when Athens came up with the big hit.
Trainer lined a hit to left field, which turned into a triple after it got by a diving Cougar Stauffer and rolled to the wall.
Barga raced home for the 3-1 lead.
“He’s been great,” Cornwell said of Trainer. “He’s been leading our offense and it’s great to have him behind our pitching.”
Trainer then scored when Rece Lonas dropped in a run-scoring single to left, giving Athens the 4-1 edge.
It was the end of Nichols’ day on the mound.
“His ball was moving well for him,” Nuzum said. “After we saw that, our approach was a little better. We were jumping on the first pitch strike when it was there.”
Athens had finally cashed in with a big inning, something that Zane Trace was unable to do against Cornwell.
The Pioneers loaded the bases with no outs in the third, but had to settle for only one run after Stephens turned a 4-3 double play.
Athens would tie the game at 1-1 in the third on Eli Kennedy’s RBI grounder.
Zane Trace appeared it might answer when it put the first two runners on against Cornwell in the fourth. Instead, the junior got Matt Downs to hit a ground ball to Trainer at shortstop, turning into a 6-3 double play.
“He was ahead of hitters,” Nuzum said. “He knows how to pitch.”
The Pioneers’ last chance came in the top of the sixth. Athens led 5-1 after Barga’s RBI hit in the fifth, but Zane Trace used a deep single to center off the bat of Lane Larson to make it 5-2 with no outs.
The plot thickened after Tanner Congrove’s infield single was followed by a wild pitch, moving runners to second and third with one out.
“I just stayed true to what I am,” Cornwell said. “I did what coach always says and that’s be a Bulldog.”
Cornwell stepped up, striking out Camden Larson swinging on a full count for the second out.
Cornwell then got Kody Haubeil to hit a pop up to Stephens at second to end the threat.
Cornwell said the confidence gained from pitching two tournament games a year ago as a sophomore paid off on Thursday.
“Last year was more of a trial run for me in the tournament,” he said. “This year, I feel more confident.”
Cornwell surrendered a lead-off single to Christian Fetters in the seventh, but retired the next three hitters in order.
He jumped high in the air to celebrate with his catcher, Carson Baker, after Stephens squeezed the final out on a pop to second.
The Bulldogs will face No. 1 Sheridan in the Division II district semifinals on Monday at 5 p.m. at Ohio University’s Bob Wren Stadium. The Generals were 11-1 winners over No. 5 McClain on Thursday.
“We love to go over there,” Nuzum said. “We’re hoping to go there every year.”
Athens finished with 13 hits in the win. Barga and Trainer were both 3 for 4 with an RBI. Lonas was 2 for 3 with an RBI and was also hit by a pitch.
The Bulldogs won Southeast District titles in 2016 and 2017, and were runner-up a year ago. Sheridan provides a challenge and is 22-5 on the season, but the Bulldogs are veterans of postseason baseball.
“It’s just a great feeling, a great atmosphere,” Cornwell said. “We want to make it as far as we can and hopefully go further.”
Athens 5, Zane Trace 2
Zane Trace 001 001 0 — 2 7 0
Athens 001 310 x — 5 13 1
Ben Nichols, Tanner Congrove (4), Kody Haubeil (6) and Lane Larson
Jack Cornwell and Carson Baker
WP — Cornwell; LP — Nichols