For the third straight season, the Big Walnut Golden Eagles baseball team entered the district final as the underdog and, for the third straight season, emerged with a championship.
Eighth-seeded Big Walnut scored two runs in the fifth and added four more in the sixth to cruise to a 6-1 win over top-seeded Grove City in the Division I district title game Thursday (May 18) in Upper Arlington.
“It’s getting better and better every time,” said junior Connor Gerren, who dressed with the varsity as a freshman and played a big role on last year’s squad. “This stuff never gets old. I love this team.”
The Eagles never stopped believing. After Grove City ace AJ Peter set down the first 12 batters of the game, he seemed untouchable.
“They just stuck it out and they didn’t get frustrated,” Eagles coach Jack Schone said. “Their pitcher was really, really on. He proved to be everything (we’ve heard).”
Then, Parker Imertreijs lined a deep drive off the high wall in right for a double on the second pitch of the fifth.
“That’s what we kept telling the kids – we get one and that second one’s going to come and that third one’s going to come,” Schone said.
And the second one came on the next pitch. Gerren lined it off the wall in left to give the Eagles (23-5) a 1-0 lead.
“I thought it was out originally, so I got excited … I don’t hit too many out,” Gerren said. “I was just happy that I could help the team get the first run on the board and get the momentum rolling.”
After a Henry von Hollen sacrifice bunt moved Gerren to third, Jake Foster drove him home with a RBI single.
Von Hollen added a RBI single in the sixth, Foster drove in two with a double and later scored on an error to push the lead to 6-0 at the end of six.
“All I ever heard about (Grove City) is that (they stay up) all the time,” Foster said. “So, we wanted to match that. I think at the end of the day, that’s really why we won this game.”
It was a tall task to be sure. Grove City entered on a 15-game winning streak and hadn’t lost a game to a Central Ohio school all season, which included an undefeated run in the OCC-Ohio, which had two other teams in the district final round.
But, BW had won 11 straight coming in and 20 of 22 after losing three straight to fall to 3-3 early in the year.
The Eagles went with their ace Austin Becker, who was held to relief duty during last year’s district title-run because of an arm injury.
He’s been a starter all season, but the Vanderbilt commit has been on a pitch count.
All of that was out the window against Grove City. He went the distance on 120 pitches, 77 for strikes, to pick up the win.
“My arm feels good,” he said with it tied down by an ice-pack after the game. “I was feeling fine. It felt great … my dad came over to the dugout and said, ‘It’s your game to lose’ – so I came out and I stayed focused and threw strikes.”
Imertreijs collected a ball in the dirt and completed Becker’s ninth strikeout with a throw down to first for the final out – the bow on a grind-it-out win for Becker.
His only flinch came in the bottom of the sixth when Logan Williams led off with a triple and scored on an Antle double. Tristin Siemer walked to put runners on first and second with no outs.
But, Becker got a lineout to left and a pair of strikeouts to keep the Greyhounds to a run.
Williams and Nick Erwin led the Greyhounds (22-6) with two hits apiece.
BW plays Gahanna Lincoln in the regional semifinal Thursday at 5 p.m. at Dublin Coffman.
“This was all the kids – it had nothing to do with me,” Schone said. “It’s something that they’re going to remember and be able to share.”
Gahanna 11, Olentangy 10
Thursday’s district final in Dublin was everything you’d expect a big-time game to be.
It had it all. Unfortunately for the Braves, though, the one thing it lacked was a win at the end.
Olentangy owned a pair of leads — 2-1 after the first inning and 8-7 heading into the fifth — but found itself down 11-8 with three outs to go after Gahanna plated the tying run in the sixth and three more in the seventh.
The Braves weren’t done, though. Berto Carselle was hit by a pitch to open the seventh. Jake McIntyre singled to put two on with nobody out and, after Sam Nourse and Braydon Chitty flied out on back-to-back pitches to bring third-seeded Olentangy down to its last gasp, three straight walks made things very, very interesting.
Caden Kaiser walked to loaded the bases, Cole Robinson walked to force in the first run of the frame and Cameron Kaiser walked to make it a one-run game.
A strikeout ended the threat, though, leaving the bases loaded and giving Gahanna the title.
Cameron Kaiser and McIntyre led the Braves with a combined six hits. Cameron Kaiser had three hits, two of which were triples, to go with three RBI and two runs scored. McIntyre, meanwhile, had three hits, one a homer, to complement his three RBI and two runs scored.
Robinson also had a nice game, finishing with two RBI, and Logan Ketron and Carselle finished with two hits apiece.
Cael Baker led the Lions, finishing 4-for-4 with two homers, four RBI and two runs scored.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.