|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands shortstop Haley Coffey ranges to grab the ball in Thursday's 36th District championship game.|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Newport Central Catholic catcher Kristen Schreiber makes a diving catch in Thursday's 36th District title game.|
The Highlands baseball and softball teams combined to shut out Newport Central Catholic by a combined 13-0 to claim the crowns. The baseball team (29-6 overall) pulled away from the Thoroughbreds (14-19) late in Bellevue in the 8-0 win to claim its fourth straight district championship. A few miles south in Winkler Field, Highlands (22-8) played error-free defense and took advantage of five NewCath (20-10) errors to claim its second straight crown in the 5-0 victory.
District champions face runner-up squads in the first round of the region tournament. In baseball, Highlands will face either Covington Catholic, St. Henry or Boone County next while NewCath will take on either Beechwood, Dixie Heights or Ryle. In softball, Highlands will face Ryle, Dixie Heights or Beechwood. NewCath will take on Conner, Notre Dame or St. Henry.
In the baseball title game, Highlands scored twice in the first inning. But the Bluebirds did not score again until the fifth inning. They scored three in the fifth and three more in the sixth.
"We talk about it all year long," said Jeremy Baioni, Highlands Head Coach. "It's not necessarily how many hits you get, it's when you get them. Defensively, if we play well, our pitchers for the most part are keeping us in the game. They're keeping the ball down and giving our guys chances to make some plays. We made plays behind them (Wednesday) and (Thursday)."
Highlands outhit NewCath, 9-3. But the Thoroughbreds made the Bluebirds earn the hits as only one went for extra-bases when Alex Veneman tripled in the sixth inning. Veneman, Luke Hennigan, D.J. Mills and Jake Whitford had two hits each to lead the Bluebirds. Mills batted in three with Whitford brining in two and scoring twice. Veneman and Todd Ramey also scored twice. Ramey scored twice and pinch-runner Trey Bowden scored another run off his three walks.
"With the first few innings, we had untimely hitting," Hennigan said. "We'd get hits with two outs and no one on. Then in the last few (innings), we'd get a few guys on with no out. That's when we strung some hits together."
Mitch Jones (6-2) picked up the win pitching four innings. Ethan Doty threw the next two striking out six Thoroughbreds and Jacob Noe pitched the seventh. The trio combined to strike out 10 and walk three.
Highlands has tied a state record with five straight shutouts. The Bluebirds have allowed just one run in their last seven games. That came on May 9 in an 11-1 win over St. Henry. They've won nine in a row.
"It's been a great year," Doty said. "Everyone has contributed to this. It was good to come in behind my mentor, Mitch Jones, who has been coaching me for four years giving me all these tips and getting me ready for the varsity games. It was great to bring back the district title, especially with big crowd here supporting us."
NewCath had one big scoring threat in the fourth inning. The Thoroughbreds loaded the bases with one out. But Jones struck out Leo Barth looking and coaxed Nate Enslen into grounding out back to the mound.
"It was a good ballgame," said Jeff Sculkens, NewCath Head Coach. "The biggest thing I was disappointed in was we didn't put the ball in play. We had too many strikeouts. We'll work on that and get better Monday. They have very good pitching. You have to stay in the ballgame and try to win 2-1, 1-0 or 2-0. We're capable of doing that."
In the softball title game, Highlands scored three times in the second inning to build a 4-0 advantage and never looked back. The big play of the second came when Whitney Quillen and Haley Coffey scored on an error off the bat of Bailey Spencer. Highlands scored four unearned runs in the win.
"They're ready to make a run," said Rob Coffey, Highlands Head Coach. "In the last 15-17 games, they've really locked down on defense. That's our thing. We've locked down the lineup. Ever since then, everyone's come around and knows their role. It's been tremendous."
Spencer pitched another gem on the mound for Highlands. She struck out five and allowed just four hits. NewCath sophomore pitcher Haley Meyers also had five strikeouts.
The Ladybirds recorded eight hits. Shelby Graybill led the way going 2-for-5 with a double. Spencer and Rachel Gabbard had one run batted in each.
"We had a group chat and we talked about how stoked we were for the game," Graybill said. "Ever since the last game with NC which we should have won, we've been wanting them so bad. We've been wanting to prove who we are."
The 9th Region tournaments begin Monday. The baseball tournament will again be at University of Cincinnati Medical Center Park and the softball tournament will take place at Northern Kentucky University. The drawings for the tournaments take place Saturday morning.