G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands senior Jake Lester (14) waits on a pitch while Newport Central Catholic catcher Kevin Hoffstedder waits. The Bluebirds beat the Thoroughbreds, 3-0 to win their second straight 36th District championship.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
HEIGHTS – This one did not have the extra-inning drama that the regular-season
just a few key hits and the same solid pitching and defense that helped the
Highlands Bluebirds all season in a 3-0 District 36 Championship win over the
Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds on Thursday at Morscher Field. This
marked the second straight district crown for the Blue and White.
regular-season contest on April 25 at Highland Park went 13 innings before
Highlands won 4-3. That gave the Bluebirds the top seed for the tournament.
pitchers Joey Cochran (5-2) and Mitch Jones outdueled Connor Bartels (5-3) and
Michael Bueter in the low-scoring contest. Cochran pitched into the seventh
before Jones came on and struck out three Thoroughbreds. Cochran struck out two
and the defense played error-free behind him.
“We have a couple guys we can run (to the mound) on a
daily basis,” said Jeremy Baioni,
Highlands Head Coach. “Joey is going to
go out there and challenge them. He has that linebacker mentality.”
managed just four hits off Bartels and Bueter. But they came from the same
hitters as Jake Whitford and Todd Ramey both went 2-for-3 batting second and
third respectively. Whitford scored twice and had a run batted in and Ramey
batted in two. Whitford homered and doubled and Ramey recorded two singles.
Ramey also stole two bases.
Bueter combined to strike out three Bluebirds (19-17). Bartels retired
Highlands in order in the first three innings and the fifth.
home run came in the bottom of the fourth after Bartels retired the first 10
Highlands batters. He belted a home run to right field for the only run the Bluebirds
needed to win the game.
“I was looking for the fastball,” Whitford said. “Right
when it left the bat, I knew it was gone. We kept the momentum going.”
singled, took second on a wild pitch before stealing third and scoring on the
only error of the game to put Highlands up 2-0. That NewCath error also allowed
Quentin Murray to reach on a ground ball.
“Connor made a mistake and (Whitford) made him pay for
it,” said Jeff Schulkens, NewCath
Head Coach. “He left a fastball up and
(Whitford) punished it.”
Bluebirds added an insurance run in the sixth. Whitford doubled and scored when
Ramey singled to right.
(20-13) outhit the Bluebirds percentage-wise .240 (6-of-25) to .182 (4-of-22).
But all the NewCath hits were singles and only two came in the same inning in
the seventh. The Thoroughbreds did not see anyone record a multi-hit game nor
have any runners advance past second base.
runners on first and second in the second inning with two outs. But the Murray
threw a perfect strike to Ramey at first to pick off Nick Seibert.
“I just force ground balls and my defense does it for
me,” Cochran said. “I can’t take much credit for this game.
They do it all. That’s the most important aspect of our game. We proved that.”
another defensive gem in the next inning. Bueter tried to bunt Colin DuPont over
after DuPont singled. Murray caught the ball with his bare hand before it hit
the ground and threw to Ramey to double off DuPont.
“We’ve got into a one to two-week defensive skid,” Baioni said. “Besides
that, we’ve played good defense all year. Quentin Murray is one of the best
catchers in the region because of plays like that.”
Thoroughbreds also put runners on first and second with two outs in the seventh
after Seibert singled and Bartels moved to second. But Jones struck out DuPont
to end the game.
leadoff hitter Alex Grau left the game in the first inning. He fouled a 2-2
pitch off and the ball hit just below his right eye. The ambulance later came
and took him to the hospital.
“Our emotions drained after the first inning,” Schulkens said. “That
takes a lot out of you. But we’ll bounce back and be ready to go Monday.”
Region Tournament will be at the home of the Florence Freedom starting Monday
with the draw taking place Saturday. Highlands faces St. Henry, Ryle or
Beechwood. The two-time defending region champion Thoroughbreds battle Dixie
Heights, Boone County or Covington Catholic.
36th District Softball Championship:
Newport Central Catholic 2, Highlands 1:
second-seeded Thoroughbreds (15-13) edged the Bluebirds (17-11) at Northern
Kentucky University on Thursday to capture their second straight district
crown. The teams received seeds this year.
sophomore Sarah Neace and Highlands freshman Bailey Spencer locked up in a
pitchers dual. Neace struck out four and allowed just two hits, two walks and
hit one batter. Spencer struck out seven and allowed three walks and two earned
had scoring chances in the first. But neither team scored until the sixth
inning. Kristin Schreiber doubled to center field and Taylor Burkart bunted her
to third before she scored when Morgan Martini singled. Molly Mertel then
doubled in Martini to put NewCath up 2-0.
Bluebirds came back and scored their lone run in the bottom of the inning.
Haley Coffey tripled to center and scored on an NewCath error with two outs.
Region Tournament takes place at Conner starting Monday.