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Story and photos by Lowell Spencer

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — Boasting victories over a Division I and two Division II opponents, the Columbiana baseball team is gaining confidence and recognition as this season wears on.

An 11-5 win Friday over East Liverpool boosted the Division III Clippers — located near the Pennsylvania border between Akron and Pittsburgh — to 9-0 on the season and 3-0 in the Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference.

“We want to keep all the momentum going,” senior Riley McElwain said. “We have a very good team this year, and we want to go as far as we can. Knowing we graduate 65-75 kids a year and coming out here and beating teams convincingly is huge for our confidence.”

As coach Ryan Wolf entered his eighth year at Columbiana with a 96-47 record before this season, he recognized this could be one of his best teams from top to bottom.

“We pitch really, really well," Wolf said. "We hit very well, and we are doing the right things up and down the line, which is nice.”

The Clippers have a nice balance of veteran players and youth as their varsity roster includes eight seniors — four of whom are regular starters — and the depth of 14 interchangeable position players.

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Their pitching rotation is five-deep, including two seniors, a junior and two sophomores.

“Pitching-wise, it’s not just a couple of guys,” Wolf said. “It’s six, seven guys that can all throw well. Our top five starters are very good. We are five-deep, but we also have some relievers too.”

Seniors McElwain and Zachary Pleska, junior Seth Spooner and sophomore Alex Eusebio are all 2-0 this season, while sophomore Devin Daugherty is 1-0. Spooner also has a save, and seniors Eddie Clancy and Trevor Dearing have logged innings in relief.

McElwain leads the staff with a 0.57 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 12.3 innings of work. Pleska is right behind him with a 0.58 ERA and 20 strikeouts, followed by Spooner with a 0.68 ERA and 22 Ks.

At the plate, Spooner has hit safely in all of the Clippers' nine games, hitting .696 with a double, three triples, two home runs and 11 RBIs. 

Eusebio is hitting .500 with four doubles and nine RBIs, and Pleska is at .454 with two triples, three home runs and leads the Clippers with 14 RBIs.

“Defensively, we are doing the little things right,” Wolf said. “That keeps us from giving up big innings. But it’s still pretty early. We have a long way to go and some good competition that will test us a little bit. That’s what I want to see.”

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Columbiana hammered East Liverpool 11-5 Friday to extend its perfect season, but the game involved some early adversity. 

The Clippers took advantage of two early walks to plate two runs in the top of the first inning between the two nonconference Columbiana County foes. 

But the Potters returned the favor in the bottom of the frame. Following two consecutive free passes, the Potters pounded two doubles in between a ground out to grab a 3-2 lead after one inning.

But the Clippers were unfazed as they took advantage of an error and three more walks by Potters pitcher Anderson Fitch to push six runs across and take an 8-3 lead. 

“That was huge for us because that was the first deficit that we faced all year,” McElwain said. “That showed that we could come back and get the lead again, proving that we can play through adversity.”

All six runs came with two outs as junior Bayden Pipoly laced a single to right-center to drive in one run, followed by an RBI double by Eusebio and a two-RBI double by Daugherty. 

“We have been playing in some tight games, but we have been playing with the lead,” Wolf said. “But for it to go the other way and see our guys answer and just keep building on each other, I was really proud of them.”

After the Potters had cut the deficit to 8-4, the combination of a big defensive play by Pipoly and a three-run homer by Pleska sealed the game for the Clippers.

From here on out, Columbiana's goal is simple.

“To win state,” McElwain said with a smile. “We really believe that we can with the pitching we have and our hitting ability. We truly believe we can make a deep run.”