Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Bluebirds earn another shot at 9th Region Baseball crown
The Highlands Bluebirds baseball team (31-6 overall) wanted another chance at a 9th Region title after the Conner Cougars scored three late runs to win the crown 3-0 last year. The Bluebirds earned their third shot in four years with a 4-2 win over the Boone County Rebels (19-14) on Tuesday at University of Cincinnati Medical Center Stadium.
But the semifinal win did not come easy. The Bluebirds trailed once and had to score twice in bottom of the sixth inning and work out of a jam in the top of the frame to pull out the win.
Joseph Martin pitched the first five innings before Mitch Jones (7-2) relieved him in the sixth and ultimately picked up the win. Blake Roedersheimer hit the second pitch from Jones into right for a double. He then took third on a balk.
"We try to keep our guys on an even level mentally no matter which situation they are in," said Jeremy Baioni, Highlands Head Coach. "Mitch has made so many stressful pitches this year. He's been in that situation and made big pitches so I had full confidence in him to make those pitches. Sometimes it takes a little bit of luck. But we'll take it any way we can get it."
But Highlands played the infield in and the strategy worked well. Kenton Hibbard grounded out to Jake Whitford at short and Brenden Stanley grounded out to Todd Ramey at third. After Cameron Faehr walked an pinch-runner Conner Brock stole second, Jones got Artie Santonio to pop up back to him to end the threat.
"I knew they were at the bottom of the order but I still had to respect them as hitters," Jones said. "I just trusted my coaches, my pitches and my stuff. I knew it would be all good at the end. I also trusted my fielders. I owe them this win with the outstanding fielding percentage."
Whitford led off the bottom of the sixth and reached on a Boone County error. D. J. Mills tried to bunt Whitford over, but could not get it down. So with two strikes, he instead laced a single down the line in left moving Whitford to third. Mills took second on the throw back to the infield.
"As soon as I didn't get that bunt sign, I knew I had to stay back because the whole game, I'd been in front of it," Mills said. "I had to swing at any strike. That's what I did. I honestly thought (the hit) was foul. But it worked out."
That brought Kenny Ball to the plate. Ball singled in Whiford before Luke Hennigan hit a sacrifice fly to center allowing pinch-runner Jacob Noe to score.
"Coach (Baioni) gave me a fake bunt sign. I was just trying to get the ball through the infield," Ball said. "I knew I could get it over top of them if I hit it hard enough. I faked the bunt, pulled back and hit a chopper over (Teegarden)."
Jones retired the side in the seventh. He struck out two. Martin struck out four.
Highlands outhit Boone County, 10-5. Brady Murray, Mills, Ball and Alex Veneman had two hits each for the Bluebirds. Murray and Hennigan both had doubles and Hennigan had two runs batted in.
"It's something you have to have," Baioni said. "You can't rely on two, three or four guys when (opponents) have great pitchers. Top pitchers are able to spot and get guys out. If you rely on two to four hitters, you're not going to be around long. You have to execute offensively."
Aaron Floyd and Roedersheimer had all five hits for the Rebels. Floyd went 3-for-4 with a run batted in and Roedersheimer went 2-for-3.
Ethan Elmore took the tough loss for Boone County. He pitched into the sixth inning striking out one.
Highlands scored first in the second inning. Mills singled and Ball bunted him to second. Hennigan doubled Mills in.
But Boone County scored two in the third to go up 2-1. Santonio struck out but reached on an error and Colin Teegarden walked. With one out, Floyd singled home Santonio before Teegarden scored when Jeff Purnell grounded out.
The Bluebirds tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the third. Murray tripled and Whitford singled him home with two out.
Highlands takes on Ryle in the region championship Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Bluebirds know they need more offense to bring the region crown to Fort Thomas than they've produced in the two recent region title game appearances. Highlands scored just one run in those two games. The Bluebirds lost 3-1 to Newport Central Catholic in the 2012 title game.
"We've had such good approaches at the plate in the first two rounds," Baioni said. "When these guys have been there in the finals, we didn't do a good job at the plate. We were anxious. We hope their a little less anxious and will take better approaches at the plate. We hope they're a little less anxious in the field because they've been there. We're hoping that experience allows us to make the big plays."
The 9th Region champion faces the winner of the 1st Region in the state tournament at Lexington on June 1 at 8:30 p.m. at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. Top-ranked McCracken County and Calloway County are battling for that crown.