The first five innings saw a lot of familiar pieces to the recent 9th Region championship runs for the Highlands Bluebirds baseball team (23-12 overall) on Monday.
Highlands used strong pitching from Ethan Doty, some timely hits and took advantage of several Beechwood errors to build a 4-0 advantage in the region quarterfinals at UC Health Stadium. But the Tigers rallied to tie the game in the top of the sixth before Kyle Rust and Trey Bowden had clutch run batted in singles to lift the Bluebirds to a 6-4 victory.
"Beechwood is really good team. They had a lot of really good wins," said Jeremy Baioni, Highlands Head Coach. "Their pitcher (Evan Schlinger) did a great job of keeping us off-balance. Our guys really stuck to a great game plan at the plate. We started hitting some balls hard about the middle of the game. They started to get through. We got good timely hitting. I'm really proud of the way we responded."
Doty pitched six-plus innings striking out seven. Grady Cramer and Drew Rom also saw action for the Bluebirds on the mound.
Highlands outhit Beechwood, 11-6. Rust went 3-for-3 with an RBI and run scored with Bowden going 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored.
The Bluebirds not only had to battle Beechwood, but also the heat. Temperatures reached the 80s on Memorial Day.
"It all depends on how fast our inning goes," said Kyle Finfrock, Highlands senior. "We want to get out on the field and get three outs as fast as possible so we can go rest in the dugout where it is cool then get some runs on the board so we can stay in the dugout. That's the main way to cool down on hot days on the turf like that."
Highlands faces St. Henry in the region semifinals Tuesday. Game time is 5 p.m. Conner faces Dixie Heights in the other semifinal afterwards. The championship game is Thursday at 7 p.m.
9th Region Quaterfinals:
Dixie Heights 5, Highlands 1:
For the first time since 2012, the Ladybirds (12-18-1 overall) did not make it past the region quarterfinals. They advanced to the 9th Region championship the past three years winning it in 2014 and 2016 before going 1-2 in the state tournament both times.
Highlands scratched across its lone run in the fifth inning. Dixie Heights built a 5-0 lead after four innings.
The Ladybirds graduate just two seniors in Kara Fornash and Jenna Martin. But the future is bright with an experienced junior class turning into seniors next year in addition to the return of several a number of talented underclassmen.