|Highlands Baseball Six-Peats as District Champs|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands junior Josie Daley makes a play in the 36th District championship game Friday.|
Runs have not always come as easy as previous seasons for the Highlands Bluebirds baseball team so it is understandable why a 4-0 deficit in the first inning would make fans nervous. But Highlands (22-12 overall) did not flinch. Instead, the Bluebirds dominated the rest of the way en route to an 11-4 victory over the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (16-14) in the 36th District championship Friday at Highland Park.
Highlands has won six consecutive district championships and has beaten NewCath nine times in a row. The Bluebirds last lost to the Thoroughbreds in the 2012 9th Region championship game.
"We could have felt sorry for ourselves and worried about trying to hit four-run home runs," said Jeremy Baioni, Highlands Head Coach. "We stuck to the process. That was a 25-man win right there. When we got down 4-0, guys in the dugout were keeping everyone going, keeping everyone in the game and picked guys up when things weren't going well."
The Bluebirds recorded 13 hits including four for extra bases to just one for the Thoroughbreds. The trio of Grady Cramer, Drew Rom and Ethan Doty allowed just one base runner on a walk in the fourth inning and the Bluebirds made no errors behind them after the lone gaff in the first inning. The trio struck out nine Thoroughbreds.
Seniors Kyle Rust, Kyle Finfrock, Brady Gosney and freshman Ethan Kavanagh had two hits each. Rust earned Tournament Most Valuable Player honors and Gosney and Finfrock made the all-tournament team. Gosney doubled and tripled scoring twice and recording two runs batted in. Finfrock doubled in a run and Rust had two runs batted in to go with a stolen base and run scored. Kavanagh doubled in a run and scored twice.
"Honestly, the rain helped a little bit," Baioni said. "It made Grady available. We had everyone available. Having so many arms is great. We told them you're going to get somewhere between 40 and 50 pitches to get some work in and see what happens."
Cooper Schwalbach came off the bench to pinch run twice and scored both times. Grant Summers also scored running for Rom.
"You just go in there. You have to know what's going on with the batter," Schwalbach said. "You can't hesitate when you're running. It's important to get your reps in and do everything correct in practice. That'll help carry it through to a game."
NewCath sent 10 batters to the plate in the first inning. Brian Wells grounded out to lead off the game against Highlands starter Hunter Dreves. But the next seven batters reached starting with Davis Halderman's single over the third-base bag for NewCath's lone hit of the game.
Cramer came in with the bases loaded and made sure NewCath did not put any more runs on the board. Cramer struck out Robby Shondel then coaxed Wells into grounding out to Sam Hennigan at third.
"I came in and did what I had to do - throw strikes," Cramer said. "It's about muscle memory. You have to have the same form every time and know what you're doing."
Highlands scored six times in the second to go up 6-4. Finfrock and Hennigan led off the inning with singles and Cramer grounded into a fielder's choice. That's when Gosney stepped in and smacked a triple scoring Hennigan and Schwalbach. Kavanagh was then hit by a pitch and Rust singled Gosney home to cut the lead to 4-3.
"It felt really good," Gosney said of the triple. "(My teammates) really fed off it and that's all I tried to do. I was just trying to get this going leading this team as a senior to victory. Everyone has just been grinding trying to figure this (offense) going. Finally, we got it going."
Then with the bases loaded, Doty singled in Kavanagh and Rust with Trey Bowden scoring on an error. The Bluebirds led 6-4 after two innings.
They extended the lead to 8-4 in the third inning. Gosney doubled with one out and scored when Kavanagh doubled. Kavanagh then scored when Rust singled.
Highlands added another run in the fourth inning. Summers scored on an error and Schwalbach came home on a passed ball.
The final Highlands run came across in the fifth inning. Bryce Ziegler singled, stole second and scored when Finfrock doubled.
The Bluebirds drew Beechwood to open the 9th Region Tournament on Monday. Game time is 1 p.m. at University of Cincinnati Health Stadium.
Newport Central Catholic 12, Highlands 5:
The Ladybirds (12-17-1 overall) could not record their fourth straight district championship at Winkler Field.
NewCath outhit Highlands, 15-5. Josie Daley led Highlands with two doubles.
Highlands takes on Dixie Heights on Monday at 11 a.m. The 9th Region Tournament again takes place at Vets Field in Newport.