By Zach Baker
CLYDE - After a game with numerous key hits, Columbian coach Curt Mellott and Shelby coach C.J. Brickman agreed the biggest at-bat was one that won't even register in the box score.
In Saturday's Division II sectional semifinal at Clyde, Columbian had a 3-0 lead with two outs and nobody on with the Whippets batting in the bottom of the fifth.
Tornadoes' starter Nate Hoyda had been excellent to that point, striking out seven and allowing just one hit. To get his team in the dugout, all Hoyda had to do was retire the No. 9 hitter, Shelby centerfielder Austin Alt.
Alt had struck out in his only other plate appearance, but this time he was able to battle Hoyda, eventually working a walk.
It didn't seem like a big deal at the time.
It ended up being the turning point.
The walk to Alt flipped the lineup, meaning the Whippets' hitters were now seeing Hoyda for the third time.
And leadoff batter Andrew Baird hinted that the third time against Hoyda would, in fact, be the charm for Shelby.
He ripped a double to left, sending Alt to third. Joel Kissel then rapped another double to right, scoring the runners and making it 3-2.
Lee Newmeyer kept the rally going with a single to center that tied the game.
The next batter, starter Justin Lewis, was hit by a pitch, putting two on.
Then Lukas Ousley smacked a pitch into right center, scoring Newmeyer and Lewis and giving the Whippets a 5-3 lead.
By the time the inning was over, nine men had come to the plate, six consecutive had reached after two were out, and five scored.
The Whippets tacked on two runs in the sixth, and beat the Tornadoes 7-3.
But after everything that occurred after, each coach went back to Alt's walk.
"That two out walk was the play of the game," Brickman said.
Mellott agreed, but said he thought his pitcher perhaps should have been in the dugout before it.
"I think (Hoyda) was dominant," Mellott said. "It's hard to question the [strike] zone, but it seemed like he was in the same locations and didn't get the benefit of the doubt."
Hoyda took the loss, with all five runs being earned. Jeffrey Crawford relieved him for the sixth.
Chandler Hoover broke a scoreless tie when he led off the fourth with a homer to center off Lewis. In the fifth, Garrett Bean drew a one-out walk, moved to second on an errant pickoff throw, then came in to score when Vince Anway doubled to right center. Hoyda followed with a single to score Anway.
Hoyda finished 2 for 3 with two stolen bases.
Mellott gave Shelby (13-10) credit, and said his team played hard.
"The big thing is, we were seven outs from a win," Mellott said. "Keeping that consistent mental focus was tough."
It was also tough against Lewis, who pitched around eight hits to improve to 8-3. He threw a complete game and struck out seven.
Brickman said Lewis was able to keep TC hitters off balance for the most part.
"That's what he's done all year; we win or lose with him," Brickman said. "The curve is his best pitch. After (the homer to Hoover), we worked off speed."
Even after falling behind, Columbian had chances. It stranded Bryce Lonsway at third in the sixth, and left two on in the seventh. Lewis got a fielder's choice from Mike Rohrbach to end the game with Hoover standing on deck.
Mellott, whose Tornadoes (8-14) still have games to play in their regular season, said the Tornadoes have improved.
"We're starting to get there," he said. "We have a road to go ahead."