SALEM-Canton South came to Salem High School on Thursday and the Wildcats showed why they are the top team in the Northeastern Buckeye Conference.
Behind a balanced offensive attack and four strong innings from right-hander Cody Stickel, the state-ranked Wildcats defeated the Quakers 17-1 in five innings.
"The NBC is a very tough conference, and Canton South is certainly one of the better teams we have faced." Salem coach Gary Martin said. "(Head coach) Trent McIlvain does a great job with his players, they are very sound fundamentally and always bring a good effort."
The loss drops Salem to 8-12 overall and 3-9 in the NBC.
Zach Economous started for the Quakers and was steadily chipped away at by the Wildcats in three innings of work.
In the first inning, Conner Thomson led off with an infield single and advanced to second on a walk to D.J Wilson. With Wilson at second and Thomson at third and two men out, the Wildcats pounced with three consecutive singles to take a 3-0 lead.
In the second, after a bloop single and two walks, Canton South added to their total with a two-run single by Damon Wade. Economous gave up another run in the third on a leadoff single, a sacrifice bunt, and an RBI single by Alex Porter, giving the Wildcats a commanding 6-0 lead.
Wade finished 3-for-4 with four RBIs to lead the Wildcats.
"They are one of, if not the best lineup, I have faced all season," Economous said, "I thought I made some pretty good pitches, but they have great discipline at the plate and were able to put the ball in play and find some holes. All of their hitters did a great job of grinding out at bats."
While Canton South was steadily building a lead, the Quakers were handcuffed by sophomore right-hander Cody Stickel, who gave up two hits and struck out five over four efficient innings to run his record to 4-1.
"Cody has done a great job helping to fill a pitching void for us this year," Canton South coach Trent McIlvain said, " First and foremost, he is a great competitor, with a tremendous desire to succeed every time he takes the mound. Second, he has great command and is able to get ahead early in the count with strikes, we feel very comfortable with him on the mound no matter who we may face going forward."
"He (Stickel) is a lot like some of the other good arms we've seen in the conference," Economous said. "There wasn't a whole lot of deception with what he was going to throw, he just has great stuff and was able to pound the strike zone."
With the win, Canton South has zeroed in on their second consecutive NBC title. The Wildcats, ranked 12th in the Division II state rankings, improve to 18-4 overall and 10-2 in the NBC.
They will clinch no worse than a share of the title with a split next week in their season ending series against Alliance. Canton South won a district title last season, but lost its two best pitchers (Ohio State recruit Logan Bowles and Joe Costello). The Wildcats' lineup on Thursday consisted of five sophomores.
"It tough to replace what we had last year in Bowles and Costello," McIlvain said, "Each time they pitched they would deliver seven quality innings. This year we have had to take more of a team approach to pitching and hitting. We have five or six guys who can go out and give us three or four innings, and we have turned into a tremendous pitching team.
"On offense, our players one through nine in the batting order have done a great job staying within themselves and performing their roles."
The Quakers, meanwhile will try and finish out what has been a tough season on a high note. Salem will open up tournament play with Ravenna Southeast on Monday before finishing out the conference schedule next week with two games against Carrollton. Salem will play East Palestine this afternoon.
"I just hope we can get back on track with the remaining games we have," Martin said. "Offensively, we have fallen into some bad habits the last couple of weeks with swinging at bad pitches and not having a difficult approach at the plate. That is something we are going to work very hard at improving during the next week."
C-Cody Stickel, wp, (4IP, 1R, 2H, 5K, 0BB), Kendall Fowler (1IP, 0R, 0H, 0BB, 0K) and Conner Thomson.
S-Zach Economous, lp, (3IP, 6ER, 8H, 3BB, 0K), Storm Haueter (2/3IP, 3ER, 2H, 3BB, 1K), Hobie Butcher (1/3, 0ER, 0H, 0BB, 0K), Max Wolfgang (5ER, 5H, 0BB, 1K) and Jake Carner.