ATHENS — A fly ball to right field was just what the doctor ordered for Circleville Thursday night.
That fly ball came in the bottom of the seventh with the game tied and the bases loaded and propelled Circleville to a 4-3 Southeast District championship over Hillsboro.
“I was trying to drive something backside, just pop it up in the air, get a guy in and get the win,” said Garrott Kennedy, who’s sacrifice fly allowed Jon Burns to score from third.
“I was just hoping it was far enough to get that right fielder back so he couldn’t make the play at the plate,” Kennedy said.
Burns led off the bottom of the seventh drawing a walk on four pitches.
That ended a relief appearance by Hillsboro’s Evan Watson and Ryan Scott was brought to the mound.
A passed ball allowed Burns to go to second and then Seth Risner laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Burns to third.
Hillsboro elected to intentionally walk Ethan Wolfe and Cory Cline to load the bases.
That brought Kennedy to the plate where he was able to send a 2-1 pitch deep enough into right field to allow Burns to tag, score and end the game.
“Don’t chase and look for something you can elevate,” is what coach Brian Bigam told Kennedy. “He’s a baseball rat. He’s around the game 24-7 and we had all the confidence in the world in him driving the ball there.”
The win gives Circleville its fifth district baseball championship.
“This is cliché, but I love Circleville, I love the community, I love teaching here and I love baseball,” Bigam said. “This is our fifth district championship and I’ve been fortunate to be a part of three of them — two as a coach and one as a player. To see our community here cheering for our kids just makes me really proud to be a Tiger.”
Kennedy gave some of the credit for Circleville’s tournament run to a kids’ game.
“We struggled at the beginning of the year,” he said. “We played a game of wiffle ball probably halfway through the season instead of practicing just to get our minds off of everything when we were struggling. We came back after that and, I think, we won 14 of 16 of our next games. We haven’t stopped since.”
The Tigers will return to Ohio University next Thursday at 2 p.m. to take on Unioto in the regional semifinal.
“We were fortunate. You’re looking at a leadoff walk, a passed ball, a sac bunt, two intentional walks and a sac fly. It wasn’t the prettiest game throughout,” Bigam said. “My pitchers battled. We fell behind too many hitters, had too many free passes. We’ve just found a way to be kind of gritty right now. We’re sloppy at times in the field, we left too many guys on base but the grit carried us through right there.”
Andrew Barnhart grabbed the win in relief of starter Ethan Wolfe.
Barnhart entered the game with one out in the fourth inning and the bases loaded. He struck out first batter he faced and got the next one to fly out to centerfield to keep the Tigers up 2-1.
“When you’re a pitcher … you have to worry about the pitch you’re throwing — you cant worry about guys on base, you can’t worry about your last pitch, you can’t worry about a hit someone got, you’ve got to be able to throw the next pitch for a strike,” Bigam said. “That’s why he’s good coming in — he doesn’t get phased by anything. He’s calm, cool, collected and I’m really proud of him.”
Hillsboro was the first to score Thursday with a run in the top of the second inning.
Circleville responded in the bottom half of the inning.
Wolfe led off with a single, Cline moved him over with a sac bunt, Kennedy got on with a single and then Barnhart walked to load the bases.
Brad Henry then came to the plate and singled to drive in Wolfe and Cline and put the Tigers up 2-1.
The score remained there until the fifth inning.
With two outs, Barnhart hit a batter and then walked the next one. An error loaded the bases. Hillsboro’s Luke Magulac singled to drive in the tieing run and Payton Bell was then hit by a pitch to drive in another and put Hillsboro up 3-2.
Circleville again responded in the bottom half of the inning.
Garrett Gray reached on a fielder’s choice, moved up on a single by Jake Mancini and then scored on a double by Burns to tie the game.
Wolfe went an out into the third as Circleville’s starting pitcher, allowing one run while walking three, hitting two and striking out one.
Barnhart went the rest of the way allowing two runs (both unearned) on one hit and a walk with two hit batters and a strikeout.
Circleville collected five hits with a double from Burns and singles from Henry, Mancini, Wolfe and Kennedy.
Magulac had three of Hillsboro’s six hits.
Hillsboro 010 020 0 3 6 4
Circleville 020 010 1 4 5 1
Humphries, Watson (6), R. Scott (7) and J. Scott; Wolfe, Barnhart (4) and Gray. W — Barnhart. L — Watson.