LANCASTER, Ohio — Too little and way too late.
Despite making things interesting late, the Southern baseball team had its remarkable 2019 postseason run come to an end Thursday afternoon following a 12-7 setback to Newark Catholic in a Division IV Region 15 semifinal held at Beavers Field in Fairfield County.
The host Tornadoes (18-8) found themselves in some self-inflicted trouble early on as the Green Wave (22-9) received three consecutive walks to start the game, then cleanup hitter Fischer Nance was hit by a pitch that forced Derek Hawk in from third for a permanent lead four batters into regulation.
NCHS eventually plated five runs in the top half of the first, but the Purple and Gold rallied with a score in their half of the first.
Gage Shuler received a leadoff walk, then stole second and advanced to third on a one-out single from Billy Harmon. Shuler eventually scored during the next at-bat following a passed ball, cutting the deficit down to 5-1 after one complete.
That momentum was all but lost midway through the second as SHS committed three errors to go along with two walks and four Newark Catholic hits, which led to six more runs for the Green Wave en route to a commanding 11-1 advantage nine outs into regulation.
Despite leaving runners stranded in every inning except the second, the score remained a double-digit deficit until the Tornadoes were down to their final out in the bottom of the fifth.
Facing a mercy-rule outcome with nobody on and looking at an 0-1 offering, Harmon belted a shot over the head of the centerfielder. While racing around to third base to complete a triple, the ball squirted past the NCHS third baseman and rolled into the dugout — allowing Harmon to stroll home for an 11-2 deficit while extending the game for at least another inning.
Then, Southern found its offensive rhythm as Jensen Anderson delivered a double to right-center and eventually scored on an error that allowed Ryan Acree to reach safely.
Colton Parker then reached on an error that moved Acree to second, and both later scored following consecutive walks to Ryan Laudermilt, Austin Baker and Logan Drummer — allowing the Tornadoes to cut the gap down to 11-5 through five complete.
Slater Evans extended the Green Wave lead back out to seven with a sacrifice fly to right that allowed Grant Myers to come home for a 12-5 edge.
Southern, however, managed to load the bases with nobody out in its half of the sixth, and Acree hit into a fielder’s choice that allowed Noah Diddle to score while trimming the deficit in half at 12-6.
Harmon singled home Baker with two away in the bottom of the seventh, but Shuler was caught stealing at third base on the next play to wrap up the final five-run outcome.
The Tornadoes had more than their fair share of opportunities offensively, stranding 11 runners on base by game’s end. Nine of those that were left on also came in the first, fifth, sixth and seventh frames … all innings in which the Purple and Gold scored runs.
It also didn’t help Southern’s cause to commit four errors while also issuing nine walks and hitting three batters. Only half of the Green Wave’s runs were earned.
Newark Catholic — which has now eliminated SHS from regional play in the Tornadoes’ last eight Sweet 16 appearances — advances to face Toronto in the Region 15 championship on Friday after the Red Knights (24-5) defeated Huntington Ross (9-15) in the second semifinal Thursday by an 8-0 count.
Afterwards, Southern head coach Kyle Wickline noted that he was disappointed in the outcome — particularly with the way things started.
But, as the fourth-year skipper mentioned, he felt that his troops showed a lot of character in forcing the game to go all the way to the final out … and they also managed to win the final five innings by a 6-1 count.
“We continued to battle, and that was the good thing. We made sure that we showed some pride in being out here and we forced the game to go all the way instead of leaving early because of a mercy rule. It’s a credit to our senior leadership and those kids to keep battling when things didn’t look very good,” Wickline said. “We had some chances with the bases loaded and if we get a hit here or there, things could have been different. In the end, we just didn’t finish it … and those are some of the things you deal with in high school baseball at this level.”
Starting such an important game in a steady drizzle didn’t seem to help the cause, particularly in pitching from a mound that was covered in field turf — same as the infield.
It caused some issues for both teams in the first inning, but Newark Catholic ended up making better adjustments as the day progressed. The weather also turned pleasant and dry about midway through the third inning.
“We knew coming in that we had to play a clean game. We struggled at the start and I think we got a little down on ourselves there in the second inning with the errors, and it just snowballed from there,” Wickline said. “We had the big inning in the fifth and we started getting our confidence back, and we made something of it from there.
“Both teams struggled with the rain, but we gave up too many extra chances with walks and errors … and they took advantage of it. That was the difference in the game.”
Southern outhit NCHS by an 8-7 overall margin and did have a majority of the seven errors in the game. The hosts stranded 11 runners on base, while the Green Wave left nine on the bags.
Newark Catholic used six different pitchers, none of whom threw more than 26 pitches in the triumph. Starter Connor Hinerman picked up the winning decision after allowing three runs (one earned) and two hits while striking out two in 1.2 innings of double-stinted work.
Anderson took the loss for SHS after surrendering five earned runs, two hits and three walks over an inning of work. Anderson was the first of three hurlers used by the Tornadoes in the setback.
Harmon led Southern with four hits, followed by Shuler, Diddle, Anderson and Laudermilt with a safety apiece.
Grant Myers paced the Green Wave with two hits, with Hinerman, Nance, Ian Stacey, Granger Evans and Slater Evans also providing a safety apiece. Nance also drove in a game-high three RBIs.
Newark Catholic is still perfect against the Tornadoes in eight all-time matchups — all of which have come at the Region 15 tournament. The Green Wave defeated SHS seven consecutive postseasons from 2007 through 2013.
It was the final baseball game for seniors Ryan Acree, Noah Diddle, Logan Drummer, Jensen Anderson, Austin Arnold, Austin Baker and Billy Harmon in the Purple and Gold.
Wickline was very appreciative of those seven graduating seniors and what they’ve given to the program during his tenure in charge.
“Even though we lost and we’re now 0-8 against those guys, it’s still a good day for the program. We’re back to being a Sweet 16 team and we’ve had a great season getting here,” Wickline said. “I started with these seniors when they were freshmen four years ago, and we’ve gone from a losing record that first year to district champions and a return to regionals. It speaks volumes of how much this group of seniors has given to the program. They’re a special group of young men.”
Southern completed the 2019 campaign with an 11-5 mark in Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division play, good enough for third place overall.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.