By Josh Hall
PLATO, Mo. – Prior to the season, Hartville baseball coach Joe Garrison challenged his seniors.
The group of six responded.
“They made a decision to turn it on, and I’m glad they did,” Garrison said on Tuesday after second-seeded Hartville claimed a 5-0 win against top-seeded Plato in the Class 2 District 9 championship.
Hartville moved its record to 15-3, a significant improvement from a year ago when the Eagles went 7-13 before suffering a 2-0 loss to Seymour in the first round of the district tournament.
“This group of seniors just got tired of losing; tired of getting beat,” Garrison said. “They’ve come together so much. I don’t know if I’ve had a team in the right state of mind more than this one in the postseason. Their mental state of mind is right where I want it.”
Now Hartville is ready for its next challenge.
The Eagles will host rival Mansfield (17-2) in a sectional game at 4 p.m. Monday. The Lions claimed a 6-4 victory against Hartville on April 4.
“We’re not satisfied yet,” said Hartville senior James Schmidt, who was 2-for-4 with an RBI on Tuesday. “Mansfield is our rival and we can’t wait to play them at home. We know a lot of the guys, and they’re really nice, but we’re so competitive. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Senior pitcher Jace Keith led the way for Hartville against Plato (20-5).
The left-hander allowed two hits with one walk and four strikeouts to earn the complete-game shutout against Plato, which handed Hartville a 7-3 loss March 21.
“He’s been big all year,” Garrison said. “You look at him, pound-for-pound, and you may not be impressed, but you cannot put a limit to his competitive nature. It takes him so far. He just competes on the mound, and says, ‘I’m going to beat you today.’ He does everything in his power to do it.”
Keith, who has allowed one earned run this season, didn’t take any credit for his outing.
“Couldn’t have done it without all my teammates,” he said.
Keith did get the luxury of pitching with a four-run cushion from the start.
Hartville tallied four of its 8 hits in the top of the first inning as the Eagles jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Braden Keith got things started with a two-run single and Deric Jones followed with a two-run triple.
Hartville maintained control from there.
“Hartville is a good team,” Plato coach Mark Vaughan said. “We were good enough to beat them, we just didn’t have it today. You’ve got to tip your cap.”
Hartville added another insurance run in the top of the seventh on an RBI double by Schmidt, and Keith got a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the frame to secure the victory.
“He did a good job, kept us off-balance,” Vaughan said. “We just couldn’t hit a gap, couldn’t get on when we needed to. He kept us at-bay with his pickoff move. We couldn’t get our running game going.”
Despite falling in the district final, Vaughan still had reason to be optimistic. Plato only loses two senior’s from this year’s team and the majority of its roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores.
“It is very encouraging,” Vaughan said. “Anytime you can get to a district title, it’s nice. But we had our goals set a little higher than that. Hopefully the kids didn’t like the way that felt, and will work hard in the off-season.”