Claremore struck early with three runs in the first inning and rode the adrenaline of relief pitcher Bryce Howe in the final two innings to advance to the Class 5A State Semifinals with a 6-3 win over Chickasha Thursday night at Edmond Santa Fe High School.
With the quarterfinal victory, Claremore moved into the semifinals Friday night against Metro Lakes Conference rival Coweta, who held off Guthrie, 11-8. Friday’s game with Coweta starts at 6:30 p.m. at Edmond Santa Fe High School and the winner advances to the 5A Finals against the winner of Carl Albert and Noble.
Isaac Hollihan’s two-run single in the bottom of the first inning helped put Claremore ahead 3-0 and knock Chickasha starting pitcher Lane Smith out of the game. Smith gave up three walks and a bunt single by T.J. Wood to only last four hitters.
Chickasha reliever Cade Morris closed out the bottom half of the inning with a strikeout and flyout.
Claremore starter Jacob Teague improved to 9-1 after tossing 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts and three runs allowed.
“Obviously getting the three runs in the first inning was really big and got us off to a strong start,” Claremore head coach Brent Payne said. “Jacob (Teague) was OK out there, not as good as he has been. But, we had some quality at-bats and Matt (Whatley) did a good job of shutting down their running with those put-outs at second base.”
Claremore extended its lead to 4-0 in the bottom of the third inning on Howe’s RBI-single to left field that plated Wood, who reached base on a lead-off single to right field.
Chickasha, however, answered in the top of the fourth with a pair of runs that cut Claremore’s lead to 4-2. Back-to-back walks by Teague, and a costly throwing error helped the Chicks scored both of their runs without producing a hit.
Payne credited the heat, humidity and the atmosphere to Teague’s performance on the mound.
“He just didn’t have his best stuff out there,” Payne said. “His pitch count got higher than normal.”
Claremore continued to apply pressure in the bottom of the fourth with Tyler Cagle scored on Wood’s RBI-groundout to put the Zebras up 5-2.
Dalton Clifton’s bases loaded walk in the bottom of the fifth increased Claremore’s lead to 6-2, but Chickasha got of the jam as Whatley’s flyout to center field ended the inning with the Zebras leaving three runners on base.
Chickasha opened the top of the sixth with the first two batters reaching on walks and then the Chicks took advantage of a Claremore fielding error to load the bases. Teague’s third walk of the inning allowed Chickasha to cut the deficit to 6-3 with no outs.
Howe took over in relief of Teague and retired the side on three straight strikeouts.
“At that point in the sixth inning, we brought Bryce (Howe) in to get us a out,” Payne said. “He did a great job coming in to close the door and helping us get this hard-fought win.”
Howe struck out six of the seven hitters he faced in the sixth and seventh innings, with the other one reaching base on a double.
Claremore’s win over Chickasha advanced the Zebras to the state semifinals for the second-straight year.