ASHLAND — Sometimes the last 90 feet can be the hardest to get.
The Helias pitching duo of James Schaefer and Kaleb Haley made it especially difficult Monday for the Marshall Owls. Schaefer and Haley combined to strand 10 runners in the Class 4 District 9 semifinal as Helias blanked Marshall 3-0.
"We battled all day on the mound," Helias coach Chris Wyrick said. "They did exactly what we asked them to do."
With the win, top-seeded Helias (20-4, ranked No. 2 in Class 4) advances to today's district title game against second-seeded Boonville (17-8). Boonville downed host Southern Boone 5-4 in Monday's second semifinal.
Game time is 5 p.m.
"It's going to be exactly the same type of game as this one," Wyrick said. "We should be used to it. We've gotten everybody's best all year long and I hope we'll be ready."
The Owls got off to a good start Monday as consecutive singles put runners at first and second with nobody out. But Helias catcher Michael Snyder cut down a runner attempting to go to third when a pitch got a little bit away from him for the first out. Schaefer then got a fly out and line out to get out of the inning.
"That first inning was huge, keeping them off the board," Wyrick said.
Helias had a chance to break on the board in the bottom of the first, loading the bases with two outs before a pop out ended the threat.
Marshall's next good chance to score came when it put runners at first and second on a walk and a single with two outs in the fourth. But Schaefer got a fly out to get out of the inning.
The Owls loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth, sandwiching a walk between a pair of hit-batters. Schaefer again worked out of it, getting a grounder to second to end his day.
Schaefer allowed four hits and two walks while striking out one.
"He gave us exactly what we needed from him, five innings of shutout baseball," Wyrick said. "That was perfect."
While they were keeping the Owls off the board, the Crusaders weren't getting any runs of their own.
"We've been in games like this all year where we've struggled to score runs," Wyrick said. "We just needed to keep grinding and find a way to score some runs and let our pitchers carry us like they can do."
The Crusaders broke through in the bottom of the fifth,
Griffin Buschjost led off with a single and advanced to third on a single by Zach Woehr. Woehr was able to get to second on a high throw on the play.
Zach Paschal drove home Buschjost with the game's first run on a line out to center to bring up Trevor Austin.
Austin worked the count full before smacking a fastball over the fence in left to score Woehr to give the Crusaders a 3-0 lead.
"That may be what Trevor needs to get on track and get on a roll," Wyrick said. "He's been fighting his timing a little bit lately, but he squared that one up pretty well.""
Haley came on relief to start the sixth. He allowed one baserunner in each of the final two innings, but got the save.
"He just throws all kinds of strikes," Wyrick said.
It was Helias' ninth shutout of the season.
Ben Haug went the distance on the mound for the fourth-seeded Owls (16-9). He allowed five hits and two walks while recording four strikeouts.
"Haug is a very good pitcher, but we found a way to get it done," Wyrick said.
Wyrick is looking for the Crusaders, who stranded six runners against Owls, to get off to a better start on offense in today's title game
"We need to find a way to put better swings on the ball earlier in the game," he said. "Even with a tough pitcher, we have to find away to put pressure on him to make it tougher for him to get into a groove."
Helias is looking to win its fourth consecutive district title.
Today's winner will host the District 10 champion — either Marshfield or Salem — in the sectional round Tuesday, May 21.