BELLVILLE — Galion’s Ryan Utz wasn’t about to fall behind in the count again.
A senior and four-year letterman, Utz belted a seventh-inning grand slam on the first pitch he saw from Clear Fork reliever Dylan Jewell and the Tigers stunned the Colts 7-5 in a Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference showdown Tuesday at American Legion Field.
“That was my first home run of my high school career and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Utz, whose previous plate appearance in the sixth resulted in a three-pitch strikeout. “It was a fastball up and in and I just got up there knowing I could do it. I was just trying to get a base hit and that happened.
“I was definitely going to be aggressive.”
Utz’s late-game heroics capped an improbable comeback for the Tigers (11-1, 6-1). Galion trailed 5-0 going to the seventh and had managed just one base hit through the first six innings.
“It’s better late than never,” Galion coach Phil Jackson said. “We’re never done until that last out. Those kids really believe that.”
Cameron Payne drew a lead-off walk to start the Galion seventh and moved to second on Carter Keinath’s single to right. Brody Symsick’s one-out single to left loaded the bases and a wild pitch plated Payne to make it 5-1. Pinch hitter Sam Albert drew a walk to re-load the bases and a free pass to Gavin Pennington made it 5-2, bringing No. 9 hitter Troy Manring to the plate. Manring’s ground ball to second was misplayed for an error, plating Symsick to make it 5-3 and bringing Clear Fork skipper Joe Staab out of the first base dugout to make a pitching change.
Staab lifted David Ballinger in favor of Jewell and Utz turned on the right-hander’s first offering and deposited it over the fence in left.
“They had walked a couple of guys so I figured he were going to try to get ahead,” Utz said. “He throws pretty hard so (I figured) he was going to come in with the fastball.”
The loss ruined a brilliant start by Clear Fork’s Mitch Dulin. The hard-throwing senior right-hander allowed just one hit, a third-inning single to Pennington, while striking out six in five innings of work.
“He did his job and he was at his number of pitches,” Staab said of pulling Dulin after five innings. “He did his part and his time was done.”
Clear Fork (7-2, 5-2) had plenty of chances to pad its lead, but left the bases loaded in the second and third innings and stranded two more runners in the fourth. The Colts had two runners picked off first base.
“We had a number of opportunities to tack on more insurance runs,” Staab said. “We had guys on base and we just … didn’t get that big hit we’ve been getting. We had opportunities, but we just weren’t able to take advantage.”