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HOT OUT OF THE GATE: Karns City’s Jacob Jones Sharp as Gremlins Edge Clarion-Limestone, 5-3, to Begin Season

BUTLER, Pa. (EYT/D9) — It was a crisp late-March evening, but Jacob Jones was dealing as if bathed in the warmth of late-May.

The Karns City junior right-hander was in mid-season form on the hill, striking out nine and walking just one in five innings of work to help the Gremlins to a 5-3 win over Clarion-Limestone on Monday at Michelle Krill Field at History Pullman Park.

“I thought I looked pretty good,” Jones said. “I just had some highs and lows. I couldn’t hit the strike zone when I wanted to sometimes, but I battled through it and our team battled through it and we got the win.”

(Pictured above, Jacob Jones gets set to deliver a pitch against Clarion-Limestone/photo by Diane Lutz)

Jones is the ace now that Mallick Metcalfe graduated. He wasn’t shy about expressing his desire to be that guy to Karns City coach Josh “Sluggo” Smith in the offseason.

Smith had little doubt Jones could fulfill that role after his showing last season and a sophomore.

He liked what he saw in the season-opener against C-L.

“Jacob said he wanted to take it upon himself to be our ace,” Smith said. “He told is he was going to be that guy and it showed tonight. (Clarion-Limestone) has a great team and a great lineup. They are very athletic over there. He did a good job. With that breaking ball of his, it makes his fastball look faster.”

Jones gave up five hits and two runs — only one earned — in his outing. He threw 90 pitches.

The only trouble he ran into was in the top of the fifth inning.

After getting two strikeouts, Jones gave up three consecutive hits — a double by Logan Lutz, a RBI single to Tommy Smith and a single to Jake Smith.

Jones, though, limited the damage to just that one run with another strikeout to end the frame with Karns City still up, 4-2.

“That was one of those lows I was talking about,” Jones said. “I got a strikeout to get myself out of it. But my defense helped me out today.”

Karns City and Clarion-Limestone traded unearned runs early before the Gremlins broke out with a three-run fourth inning against Kohen Kemmer, who relieved Lutz.

Adam Manuel, Tyler Kelly and Joey O’Donnell opened the frame with three straight singles. Jones also delivered a RBI hit during the rally.

The Gremlins extended that 4-2 lead after Jones exited with a run in the bottom of the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Kelly. 

Clarion-Limestone made it 5-3 against Karns City sophomore left-hander Colton Christie on an unearned run, but couldn’t do more damage.

Christie was the perfect compliment to Jones and got the save, giving up the one unearned run on two hits and striking out one.

“He was a little ninth-grader last year, and he got a little bigger, but not much,” Sluggo Smith said. “He came in and threw strikes. A lefty in high school is something different, especially at the top of the seventh inning there against two lefties (Lutz and Tommy Smith), probably their two best hitters in their lineup. We liked that lefty vs. lefty matchup.”

Sluggo Smith was not afraid to use a sophomore in that kind of pressure situation.

That’s because of Christie’s high baseball IQ, the coach said.

“It’s through the roof,” Sluggo Smith said. “He’s super smart. His dad is one of my coaches and he’s always watching baseball. He was ready for that situation. He was calm, cool, and collected. He did a really good job coming in there and shitting down a really good team for two innings.”

Clarion-Limestone coach Bill Smith also had little to quibble about, even in a tight loss in his team’s 2024 debut.

(Logan Lutz takes a swing against Karns City/photo by Diane Lutz)

Lutz pitched well in his three innings on the mound. The left-hander gave up just one unearned run on four hits and struck out three in the no-decision.

Lutz also had two doubles at the plate.

Jones went 3-for-4 for Karns City.

“I’m tickled,” Bill Smith said. “We still have some decisions to make on a couple of positions in the field. We’re trying guys out. It’s only up from here. We’re gonna get better as we go.”

C-L will also get Tommy Smith back out on the mound. The Clarion University recruit is being brought along slowly this spring.

Bill Smith said he will likely get some work on Wednesday.

It helps that C-L has three strong pitchers in Lutz, Kemmer and Tommy Smith this season.

“I don’t know many other teams that are three-deep like that,” Bill Smith said. “We’re pretty privileged to have that many guys we can put on the mound.”