By BRANDON SHRIDER
ELIDA — Third time’s a charm as the saying goes.
Perhaps they didn’t account for Archbold’s Lathon Babcock.
As Elmwood faced a left-handed pitcher for just the third time this season, Babcock held the Royals (20-8) to just two hits as the Blue Streaks won 4-0 to advance to a Division III regional final against Clear Fork at 5 p.m. today at Elida.
“(Babcock) just kept the ball down and we hit it in the ground and they made the plays,” Elmwood coach Kyle Reiser said.
Archbold (22-8) wasted no time getting started against Elmwood’s ace Trevor Solether — a 10-inning complete game winner over Ottawa-Glandorf in the district semifinal.
Derek Walker led the game off by swatting the fifth pitch to center field for a single. Toby Walker then reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second and scampered to third on a passed ball.
With one out and a runner on third, Ben Bucklew knocked in the game’s first run with an RBI single over third base. Solether set down the next two batters, but labored through a 21-pitch first inning — a longer inning than any of the 10 he pitched against O-G.
“These guys come out with a lot of energy every game. I don’t ever have to tell them let’s get it going. That’s a pleasure as a coach to have that kind of attitude and effort,” Archbold coach Dick Selgo said.
Babcock started just as quickly.
Four of his first five pitches were strikes and he had two outs to show for it. He then worked the count full after a 2-0 start to the 3-hole hitter and earned a fly out to cap an 11-pitch first inning and his first of four 1-2-3 innings.
“The approach is just throw hard and make good plays with our defense. Throw hard and that’s it,” Babcock said.
But the Royals threatened in the third inning.
After back-to-back 1-2-3 innings, Elmwood’s Brett Jones led the inning off with a single. Andy Curtis reached on an error and two batters later Dylan Hall walked.
Elmwood had bases loaded with just one out and the heart of the order due up.
But as Babcock has done all year against opponents, kept the Royals off balance and induced a 4-6-3 double play to get out of the jam.
“One thing I’ve learned is somebody’s going to hit the ball, it doesn’t matter who, you just have to have that mentality constantly — they hit the ball and we made outs,” Babcock said.
And that double play was maybe the game’s biggest play.
“With Babcock on the mound, he just keeps going out there game-in and game-out giving us a tremendous effort and he did it again today,” Selgo said.
“The double play that (Bryce) Williams and (Derek) Walker turned early in the game with the bases loaded was a big, big play.”
The lost opportunity didn’t knock Elmwood out of the game, but it naturally stymied their enthusiasm and approach.
“You get a pitcher who’s really throwing a good game as far as his location as far as making it tough for us to hit. He kept the ball down and moved it in and out. It made it really tough for us to square anything up,” Reiser said.
“So when we get an opportunity like that, when we do have runners on — and we didn’t have many opportunities besides that — to not come through, it does deflate you a little bit. It’s a natural thing. But it didn’t take them out of the game. Our kids kept fighting.”
Babcock sat the Royals down in order in each of the next two innings before allowing just his second hit of the game with two outs in the seventh inning.
The Blue Streaks added insurance runs in the third, fourth and sixth innings, but tallied just one hit each of those innings.
But scoring on a dominant pitcher like Solether was a difference in the game.
“We didn’t think we’d be scoring a lot runs, so four runs was huge,” Selgo said.
Solether and Jones (1B) had the only two hits for Elmwood, while senior catcher Hall added two walks.
Solether threw 113 pitches across all seven innings, 70 for strikes, in the loss.
Babcock needed just 88 pitches to earn Archbold’s win, throwing 55 for strikes.
Toby Walker, Ben Bucklew and Bryce Williams each singled with an RBI for the Blue Streaks.
Archbold 100 110 1 — 4 6 1
Elmwood 000 000 0 — 0 2 3
WP — Babcock. LP — Solether. TOP HITTERS: (Arch) Bucklew, T. Walker & Williams 1B, RBI; Rodriguez & D. Walker 1B. (Elm) Solether & Jones 1B.
RECORDS: Archbold 22-8, Elmwood 20-8.