COLUMBUS - After stranding 18 baserunners in last week's district final triumph against Liberty Union, Marion Elgin head coach Drew Kirby knew his team couldn't afford a repeat performance if it was to have any chance against Bellaire.
Early on, though, in Thursday afternoon's Ohio Division III regional semifinal against the Big Reds, the Comets appeared on their way to a repeat performance.
Elgin left the bases loaded in the third. But the Comets broke out of the slump one inning later and went on to blank the Big Reds, 3-0, on Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium.
The Comets (21-4) will return to the Ohio State campus today to face Wheelersburg for a spot in the Division III final four. The Pirates ousted Frankfort Adena in Chillicothe, also by a 3-0 count.
''We told the guys (after the third inning) that we have to start pushing these runners across,'' Kirby said. ''We're putting baserunners on base, we're advancing runners with minimal hits, we're watching pitches, finding our pitches, we just need to starting pushing runners across.''
It started to happen for Elgin in the fourth inning.
Dalton Brown and Cory Pierce walked to start the frame. Then, with Cantyn Belmer at the plate, a Nick Patrone pitch went in the dirt, allowing both runners to advance a base. Moments later, Belmer bounced a Patrone offering over the mound and second base into centerfield allowing Andy Mosher, pinch running for Brown, to score the game's first run.
Two batters later, Caleb Lynch grounded to short, but Pierce scored from third, making the score 2-0.
Elgin's fourth inning was what Bellaire head coach John Patrone was looking for from his team during at least one of the first three. The Big Reds (17-8) had runners in scoring position in all three frames , but came up empty on every occasion.
All told, Bellaire batters were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position in the first three innings.
''During the year, we've been up and down, up and down,'' John Patrone said. ''(Thursday), we were just kind of so-so with the bats.
''When you get to this level, you can't be so-so because you're going to get beat. We squeaked through a few games earlier this season being so-so with the bats, but (Thursday) wasn't one of those days.''
In the first, Nick Patrone smacked a one-out single up the middle and advanced to second on a groundout. But that's as far as he got.
Brendon Ross singled to lead off the second, then stole second. Later, with one out, Nathan Steele was hit by a pitch. And when Wyatt Back flied out to right, Bellaire had runners at the corners with two outs. But no runs scored.
In the third, back-to-back one-out singles by Nick Patrone (who finished with two hits) and Spencer Badia gave the Big Reds runners at first and second with one out. Hunter Westlake followed Badia at the plate and flied out to right. Elgin's rightfielder - Bryston Williams - rifled a relay to third and tagged out Patrone on a close play for the third out snuffing out the Big Reds' third straight scoring threat.
It was their last. From there, Comets ace C.J.Flach took over. The senior allowed two singles the rest of the game and finished with four strikeouts and no walks.
''Their pitcher did a great job of keeping us off-balance,'' John Patrone said. ''They got guys on base and got the hits when they needed to get hits and we didn't.
''That was the difference. We had guys on base and we couldn't bring them in. We just didn't get that timely hit that we needed.''
Flach and Hardin belted back-to-back doubles in the fifth, the second plating Flach with the game's final run. The Comets finished with three extra-base hits to Bellaire's zero.
''I told the guys they have no reason to hang their heads,'' John Patrone said. ''They had a great season. A lot of guys would have loved to been here. A lot of guys would have loved to played here.
''No regrets. I thought we played hard and I thought we played well. (Elgin) played well and their coach does a fantastic job with them."