Chris Sparks is as seasoned as any area pitcher, even if he is only a sophomore.
His efforts made the difference again for Crooksville on Saturday.
Sparks threw a four-hitter and the host Ceramics used a three-run third inning to edge Chillicothe Southeastern 4-2 in a Division III sectional final.
Crooksville (12-9) led 4-0 after three innings. That proved to be plenty of breathing room for Sparks, who struck out seven.
“We played solid baseball,” Ceramics coach Shawn Chamberlin said. “We played the game the right way. We got good pitching, good defense and got a couple of timely hits.”
The win earned a ninth district berth in 12 years under Chamberlin, whose team advanced to play 10th-seeded Frankfort Adena (8-16) at 7 p.m. Friday at Chillicothe’s V.A. Memorial Stadium. The Warriors upset No. 2 seed Williamsport Westfall 3-2 in its sectional final.
The final is at 2 p.m. next Saturday against either top-seeded, defending state champion Wheelersburg, No. 4 seed Albany Alexander or No. 5 seed Stewart Federal Hocking. The Spartans and Lancers play Monday at Alexander.
“I can’t wait,” senior infielder Caleb Jago said. “It’s a great atmosphere. We’ve worked our butts off all year to get to this point. We know what we need to do. It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.”
Jago helped set the table for the offense, getting on base twice to set up runs.
He led off the first inning with a single, took second on a passed ball and eventually scored on Nate Daniels’ single for the game’s first run.
After the Panthers tied it two innings later, Jago drew a leadoff walk and stole second before scoring on another Daniels single.
After Dylan Spung walked, Sparks singled home Daniels to make it 3-1. Spung then scored on an error by the third baseman.
The Panthers scored an unearned run in the fourth, but Sparks wiggled out of a two-on, two-out jam in the sixth and stranded another in the seventh to seal it.
“We were confident in him,” Crooksville senior Lake Channel said of Sparks. “We knew he was out best chance to win.”
Jago and Daniels had two singles each as the Ceramics had six hits against Southeastern pitcher Justin Dye. All were singles.
Dye’s double and singled led the Panthers.
“It’s tournament time, so you’re going to get everyone’s best effort,” Chamberlin said. “Southeastern was 7-13 coming in, but we knew they were going to play better than that today. I was glad to see us come out and play well.”