Indians advance to title game

Sunday, May 3, 2009
Central runner Blake Smith ducks as Jackson shortstop Clay Baker comes in on the ball Saturday during a SEMO Conference semifinal. Baker tagged out Smith then threw to first for a double play. (Kit Doyle)

The Indians will face Sikeston in the tournament championship game.

Jackson pitcher Zach McDowell started to settle down in the top of the fourth after he allowed two runs and five baserunners in the first three innings Saturday.

The sophomore southpaw struck out the side that inning, getting Central's Andrew Williams and Hide Tanaka swinging and Shawn Prince looking.

"My arm started feeling better as the game went on," McDowell said. "So I told coach I wanted to pitch the whole game and I just tried to keep the ball down and away."

After McDowell's strong fourth, the Jackson offense scored three runs in the bottom half of the inning to gain its first lead. The sophomore hurler preserved the lead from there.

Central second baseman Hide Tanaka tags out Jackson's Evan Watkins as he attempts to return to first after being caught in a rundown Saturday. (Kit Doyle)

McDowell tossed a complete game as he shut out Central over the final four innings. He allowed two runs -- one earned -- on six hits while striking out seven to help lead No. 2 Jackson to a 5-2 victory over No. 3 Central in a semifinal contest of the SEMO Conference baseball tournament at Notre Dame Regional High School.

Jackson will play Sikeston in the tournament championship game at Capaha Field on Monday at 7:30 p.m. Sikeston beat Poplar Bluff 10-9 in the other semifinal Saturday.

McDowell was making just his third start this season. He also has made three relief appearances. He improved to 2-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.90. He was coming off his worst outing this spring, which was a loss to Oakville on April 24 when he surrendered nine runs -- five earned -- in three innings.

"I was pretty sure I'd get the ball today, and I was pumped up to go out there and pitch," McDowell said. "I've been up and down. At the beginning of the year, I was good, and then I started struggling. But I think I got a lot better today."

McDowell received some help from his defense, which also got stronger as the game progressed after it committed two errors early.

Jackson third baseman Matt Crader throws across the diamond for an out Saturday, May 2, 2009, against Central at Notre Dame High School. (Kit Doyle)

Jackson (10-10) turned two double plays and center fielder Michael Mouser made a diving catch to end the third inning with two Central runners in scoring position and the Tigers (11-9) ahead 2-0.

Central coach Steve Williams said he thinks Mouser's diving catch shifted momentum to Jackson's side even more than when McDowell struck out the side in the fourth.

"They made a diving catch to end an inning with two guys on that would have scored," Williams said. "So it might have been 4-0. That play ... was the difference today. But that [top of the fourth] inning didn't hurt for them, I'm sure. [McDowell] really beared down right there and made some really good pitches. He threw some backdoor curveballs and he threw some good fastballs by us and he really stepped it up that inning."

With the Indians trailing 2-1 in the fourth, the bottom of the Jackson lineup broke through to give the home team the lead.

Jackson freshman Clayton Baker, the No. 7 hitter, stroked a two-run single off Central starter Zach Wilson to make it 3-2. Baker was guessing fastball and got one.

"He pitched well and we finally caught on to his curve and we stayed back on his fastball and hit that well," Baker said. "He threw me fastball, curveball and then he threw me another fastball and I stayed back and hit it."

No. 9 hitter Tyler Koch, who was filling in for Andy Winkleblack at first because Winkleblack was sick, stroked a double to deep center that scored Baker to make it 4-2. Koch typically is the backup catcher and designated hitter, but enjoyed his day as an infielder.

"I was a little nervous at first because I haven't played it in a long time," Koch said. "I just sat back and went with the flow."

Williams took out Wilson after three runs were in and two were out in the fourth.

"He just had a little trouble finding his curveball and his breaking ball all day long," Williams said about Wilson. "He really couldn't locate his breaking ball, and so when he got behind in the count, he had to come in and they hit a couple of good pitches and hit him well with men on base and that was the difference."

McDowell got six ground ball outs, including his defense turning a 4-6-3 double play in the sixth, over the final three innings.

"Zach went out there and battled today," Jackson coach Rob French said. "He went in there, he threw a lot of strikes, kept attacking guys and let his defense work."


WP -- Zach McDowell, 2-1. LP -- Zach Wilson. 3B -- Tyler Qualls (J). 2B -- Tyler Koch (K). Multiple hits -- Jackson: Josh Duncan 2-4, Qualls 2-3; Central -- Jared Green 3-4. Records -- Central 11-9, Jackson 10-10.

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