SULPHUR — Ty Pankey found his groove after working out of a fourth-inning bind as Ouachita Christian clipped Central Catholic 3-1 Wednesday afternoon in the Division IV semifinals at McMurry Park.

Returning to Field No. 41 on Friday at 3 p.m., No. 1 seed OCS will play No. 6 Opelousas Catholic in the state championship game. Opelousas Catholic defeated No. 2 Ascension Catholic 8-3 in Wednesday’s early semifinal.

In Wednesday’s second semifinal, Pankey and CCHS starter Lane Barbier traded goose eggs until the top of the fourth.

Base hits by Carter Williams and Barbier, and Hunter Daigle’s bunt single set up a bases-bases-loaded, no-out situation for the Eagles from Morgan City. Williams scored the game’s first run on a wild pitch. As improbable as it seemed at the time, CCHS was done for the day offensively.

OCS first baseman Dale Fulmer batted down a line drive off the bat of Caleb Menina and stepped on the bag for the first out.

Pankey then induced a fielder’s choice and a fly out to quell the threat.

“To minimize the damage and keep them away from a big inning was huge,” OCS coach John Parker said. “I thought we were able to carry the momentum from the defensive stand over to our offense in the next inning.”

After putting just one runner aboard through the first four innings, the OCS Eagles broke through to plate the tying run in the fifth.

Cole Hathaway started the frame with a base knock to right and Hunter Herring bunted pinch runner Cadge Wallace into scoring position. Up next, Connor Mulhern scorched an RBI single down the left field line and continued to second on an error. 

Five straight batters reached with one down in the sixth as OCS went up 3-1.

Bailey Burtram bounced a double off the left field wall, Clint Hargrave was intentionally walked and Dale Fulmer took a pitch off the hip to load the bases. Cole Hathaway then worked the count full before being hit by a pitch to force Burtram across with the go-ahead run.

Stepping to the plate next, Hunter Herring drilled an 0-2 pitch through the crease between third and short to give OCS a 3-1 cushion.

On in relief, Menina retired the next two batters, but the damage had been done.

Pankey, who sat down 12 straight to finish out the game, worked a flawless seventh on a popup to catcher Hargrave, a fly ball to Burtram in right field and a game-clinching punchout.

“Ty Pankey was huge, pitching a complete game in the semifinals,” Parker said. “That’s one of the best-pitched games we have had in a long time. He utilized all three pitches. He threw a lot of curve balls and changeups early in the game. When they started sitting on his off speed pitches, he surprised them with some fastballs. Ty did a phenomenal job today of mixing up his pitches and keeping their hitters off balance.”

Rebounding from a rocky start, the Eagles carry a 23-game winning streak into the state championship game.

“I told the kids after the game today that the standard for OCS baseball was set a lot time ago. It started when coach (Micah) Harper coached all those years,” Parker said. “The state championship is still the standard. District championships are great, but the goal is to be state champions. 

“We have reached our destination of playing for the state championship, but we are definitely not satisfied with just being there. Our kids are mission-minded. They understand that we have one goal with that goal being the state championship.”

Central Catholic put runners aboard in each of the first three frames, stranding four.

Brice Grizaffi reached on OCS’ only error of the afternoon with two outs in the first and Nathan Hebb singled before shortstop Crew Wilson pocketed an inning-ending ground ball.

Hargrave unloaded a double to deep center field with two away in the OCS first before Barbier retired the next 10 batters.

Barber doubled to open the CCHS second and moved to third on Daigle’s sac bunt, but Pankey ended the threat with consecutive strikeouts.

Pankey issued his lone walk to Grizaffi with two outs in the third. Taking off for second on a pickoff attempt, Grizaffi slid safely into second and was awarded third on a balk. Unfazed, Pankey kept the game scoreless with the third of his six punchouts.

Pankey ran his season record to 10-3, 3-0 in the postseason. 

Hits were even at five apiece. Burtram and Hargrave doubled, and Hathaway, Herring and Connor Mulhern singled for OCS (33-5).

Barbier doubled and singled for fifth-seeded CCHS (23-11), and Hebb, Williams and Daigle singled. Barbier fanned six, walked one and gave up five hits through 5.1 innings before giving way to Menina.

Notes: OCS is seeking its eighth state baseball championship. The Eagles claimed their most recent state title in 2015, Parker’s second year as coach. OCS finished as the state runner-up in 2017. … Pankey threw only eight pitches (one ball) in the top of the fifth. … OCS radio announcer Mark Kramer was among the delayed arrivals for the game as a wreck on Interstate 10 stalled traffic for hours.

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