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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bluebirds win bizarre region semifinal contest

Allen Ramsey Photo. Highlands junior Alex Veneman scores under Dixie Heights catcher Seth Caple while teammate Jake Whitford (4) prepares to congratulate him. The Bluebirds won 7-4.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

FLORENCE – Head Coach Jeremy Baioni said it sometimes takes luck to advance in the postseason.

Baioni’s Highlands Bluebirds baseball team received that and a whole lot more in the 9th Region semifinal win over the Dixie Heights Colonels, 7-4 Tuesday. Highlands scored that many runs off seven Colonel errors among other things in the win at University of Cincinnati Medical Center Stadium.

The Bluebirds had just four hits and one walk. But aside from the errors, the Colonels (29-4) had some wild pitches, balks and even a catcher’s interference. The Bluebirds had five stolen base led by Austin Beal’s two.

Highlands (22-17) led 4-3 entering the bottom of the sixth but added three runs with two out. The Bluebirds needed those runs against a team that was down to its final out against Boone County on Monday but rallied to win 2-1.

“Anytime you get extra runs against a team like that is good,” Baioni said. “I told the guys they’re not going to give up.”

The Bluebirds battle the Conner Cougars (24-9) for the region championship on Wednesday back at the same place. Game time is 7 p.m. Like the Colonels, the Cougars also beat the Bluebirds twice during the regular season.

That sixth inning saw Grayson Heck start the run reaching second on a Dixie Heights throwing error. He then took third on a balk and scored on a wild pitch. The Bluebirds led 5-3 at that point.

“It was awesome,” Heck said. “Hustling gets you a long way. I pretty much made something out of nothing.”

Highlands added two more in that inning. Alex Veneman singled, took second when Brady Murray reached on a catcher’s interference and scored on an error. A second Colonel error allowed Murray to score making the score 7-3 Highlands.

Dixie Heights managed six hits. But only Ethan Harrison had more than one hit for either team with two singles. Neither team had an extra-base hit.

Highlands starting pitcher Joseph Martin pitched into the fifth. He struck out Evan Hicks with the bases loaded in the fourth. But the Colonels tagged him for three runs in the fifth before Lou Bunning came on and ended the rally. Sophomore Ricky Raisor got the last two outs in the seven to pick up the save. The three pitchers combined for nine strikeouts.

“This is the second time Coach (Baoini) has called my number in a big game like this,” Bunning said. “We played (Newport Central Catholic) back in April and it was the same thing. (Joey) Cochran got into a jam. I came in and got the job done.”

The Bluebirds struck first with two on the fourth off Dixie Heights starter Nick Niehaus. Todd Ramey singled, stole second and scored when Luke Hennigan singled.

Before that, D.J. Mills walked. He moved to second on Hennigan’s single and Beal ran for him. Beal then stole third and the Colonels caught pinch-runner Mitch Gesenhues between first and second. However, when catcher Seth Caple charged at Gesenhues, no one covered home allowing Beal to score and make it 2-0 Bluebirds.

The Colonels loaded the bases with one out in the fifth before Henry Kerns lined out to shotstop Jake Whitford. That proved huge because Caple singled in Chris Ruedebusch and Harrison before Nick King singled home Adam Daria to put the Colonels up 3-2. Bunning walked Matt Wehrle before striking out Hicks.

“We got into a jam with the bases loaded,” Whitford said. “The pitchers were throwing well. (Kerns) got a little on it. But I was doing what I could to make plays and stop the bleeding and give us back the momentum.”

The Bluebirds retook the lead in the fifth on a crazy play. Ben Vermeil batted for Veneman and singled allowing Veneman to reenter. Veneman moved to second when Niehaus hit Murray with a pitch. Evan Allen bunted both of them over.

On the next play, Whitford hit a ground ball to first. The Colonels tried to cut down Veneman at home. But that led to two errors also allowing Murray to score and put Highlands up 4-3.

The Colonels did score once in the seventh. Kerns walked, moved to second on a ground out, third on a fielder’s choice and scored on the lone Highlands error.

The Bluebirds are back in the regional title game for the second time in three years. Highlands lost to Newport Central Catholic, 3-1 in the 2012 title game. The Bluebirds also beat Dixie Heights, 6-4 in the region semifinals that year.

1 comment:

  1. Senior Mitch Gesenhues was the courtesy runner for Hennigan in the 4th inning who got caught between first and second allowing Beal to score from third. He ended up safe at second as well.

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