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Apr. 29—Host Clay was fortunate to stay within striking range of Findlay through five innings of their key Three Rivers Athletic Conference baseball matchup on Wednesday night.

Clay’s apparent good fortune disappeared in the top of the sixth inning, however, as the visiting Trojans broke things wide open with eight runs on eight hits in an 11-0 victory shortened by the mercy rule.

The win enabled Findlay (15-4 overall, 7-2 TRAC) to pull into a first-place tie with Clay (13-4, 7-2), and St. John’s Jesuit (11-2, 7-2). A TRAC logjam near the top also includes St. Francis de Sales (8-5, 5-2) and Central Catholic (7-3, 5-3).

As things turned out, the Trojans likely did not need any more offense than the two runs on two hits they used to take a 2-0 lead in the second inning.

That’s because Findlay’s senior right-handed pitcher Ethan Franks blanked the Eagles on three hits with a combination of efficiency and craftiness. He needed just 77 pitches to navigate his way through Clay’s usually potent lineup.

Using his changeup and curveball to keep the Eagles off-balance, the 5-foot-8 Franks struck out seven and walked none.

“I was really sharp today,” Franks said. “I’m usually efficient, and me and Stech [Trojans catcher Andrew Stechschulte] were on the same page the entire game.

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“The changeup was working early, and then the curveball was really working late. That big sixth inning really helped.”

The first hit Franks allowed was Bryce Sutton’s third-inning single on a high pop fly which somehow fell between Trojans left fielder Sam Weihrauch and shortstop Blaine Ritzler.

Kale Wilkens’ singled to center three pitches later, and Jackson Kennedy added a single to left in the fourth.

“We’ve got 12 seniors, and that’s big,” said first-year head coach Ron Ammons, who had served the prior five years as a Trojans assistant after coaching the University of Findlay women’s softball team for 15 years. “They’re not all on the field together, but having them in the dugout and on the field is big with that leadership.”

Under Ammons — a 1975 Findlay grad who played for the Trojans and later at Findlay College — Findlay is seeking its first baseball league title since 2008 in the former Greater Buckeye Conference.

Weihrauch more than made up for allowing Sutton’s fly ball to land in the third, as he went 3-for-4 with 5 runs batted in.

He singled and scored during Findlay’s two-run second inning, and delivered a gift RBI single in the third to score Hunter Kayser. Weihrauch reached safely when Clay failed to cover first base on his short grounder.

There was nothing cheap about Weihrauch big blow, which capped the Trojans’ game-breaking eight-run rally. He came to the plate with the bases loaded right after Clay pulled its second pitcher, Jase Kennedy.

On a 1-2 pitch from Gary Brammer, Weihrauch hammered a grand slam over the left-field fence for Findlay’s first homer of the season and an 11-0 lead.

“We swung the bats good all night, and we came out fast that [sixth] inning,” Weihrauch said. “We got people on base, and then just kept hitting the ball all over the field.

“I don’t usually hit home runs, so I was just trying to get around the bases as fast as I could. The TRAC is tight this year, so we know we have to come out every night and play good. We can only control what we can control.”

Previously in the inning, Findlay got two walks plus singles from Braden Layne, Ritzler, Franks, Andrew Stechschulte, and Nicholas Lavelle. Layne and Ryan Stillings added singles after the grand slam.

Clay sophomore Anthony Barnes worked just two innings, and amazingly allowed just the two runs despite needing 58 pitches (four walks) to get through it.

Kennedy surrendered a third-inning run and also escaped what could have been more damage. He worked scoreless fourth and fifth innings before the Trojans caught fire in the sixth.

The rest of the winning equation was Franks.

“I call Franks the garbage man,” Ammons said. “He’s throwing milk cups up there, and wadded up socks. It looks like it’s not coming out of his hand right.

“But he controls it. He was in the zone today, and we got the right guys out on a good hitting team.”

Added Franks: “This was huge. If we lose this game, we lose some confidence obviously. We knew we could play with these guys, and beating them is a huge confidence builder.”

First Published April 28, 2021, 10:18pm

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