June 2nd, 2017

Rocks reign in Seventh Region

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Paul Najjar

Senior Writer


Rocks reign in Seventh Region
Trinity starter Brandon Pfaadt tossed 6.1 strong innings for the Rocks / photo: Carol Heil / cover: Trinity with the 7th Region hardware /

It’s been a long time coming for the Trinity Shamrocks baseball program, but it wasn’t easy.

The Rocks hung on for dear life as St. X battled back from a six-run deficit in the final frame only to fall one run shy in their comeback attempt.

The Tigers didn’t give an inch as they sent nine hitters to the plate in their last at bat but couldn’t push across the tying run as Trinity earned its first 7th Region title since 2009 with a 7-6 win Thursday night at Jim Patterson Stadium.

This rivalry never disappoints.

“We’ve worked so hard on being disciplined at the plate and that really came through for us tonight,” Trinity head coach Rick Arnold said. “We know St. X is a great team. They’ve won two of the last three state titles and have such a good lineup, but we were ready for their pitchers and our guys produced up and down the lineup.”

Trinity (32-5-2) pounded out eight hits against four St. X pitchers, walked seven times and were beneficiaries of three batters hit by a pitch. That’s 18 hitters who reached base. The Rocks added seven stolen bases as well.

Michael Blair was the hitting star for the winners going 3 for 3 with an RBI and a run scored. Trinity’s top two hitters in the order, Ben Metzinger and Matt Higgins, both went 1 for 2, with each getting walked once. They scored two runs apiece and Higgins added an RBI. All three of these players were hit by a pitch.

“Brandon Pfaadt (Trinity starting pitcher and No. 3 hitter) gave me a nice tip before the regional started,” Blair said of his hitting heroics. “He saw that my timing was late and I made the adjustment and have been hitting ever since. It’s timing, confidence and that feeling like I was going to get a hit every time I was at bat.”

Beyond his hitting tips, Pfaadt put on a gutty performance on the mound as he lasted 6.1 innings and allowed only one run on seven hits and three walks while striking out eight. The big right-hander threw 115 pitches and was pulled after getting Cam Scheler to fly out to lead off the seventh. KHSAA rules mandate that a pitcher cannot throw more than 120 pitches in a game.

“St. X has such a good hitting team and I have a ton of respect for them,” Pfaadt said. “I just had to hit my spots and not overthrow or try to be too fine. I stayed positive out there tonight and had a ton of confidence in our defense. They played another outstanding game in the field.”

Of Pfaadt’s eight strikeouts, three of them were of the caught-looking variety and he attributed that to his newly found curveball.

“I found my curveball in warm-ups tonight,” Pfaadt said. “I really hadn’t been comfortable with it all year, but I found my release point when I was warming up and it felt really good.”

The Rocks offense gave Pfaadt some breathing room right from the start. Metzinger drove the second pitch of the game to the left-centerfield gap for a double. After Matt Higgins was hit by a pitch, Pfaadt’s fly ball to deep center moved Metzinger to third where he’d eventually score on a wild pitch.

St. X starter Sam Wilson almost got out of the inning, but Blair smacked an elevated fastball to center for a hustle-double to score Higgins staking the Rocks a 2-0 lead.

“I’m not really much of a thinker at the plate, I was just in a zone,” Blair said of his productive night with the bat.

But the Tigers struck back in the bottom of the inning with senior Sam Hedges leading off with a single. Trey Sweeney’s sac bunt attempt was snuffed out by the cat-quick Metzinger who fired a bullet to second to get the lead runner. Sweeney eventually scored when Chris Esselman’s single to right was misplayed. Esselman wound up at third.

“The frustrating part for us was that we weren’t able to scratch a run out in the third or one in the fourth or in the fifth, just to kind of put a little more pressure on them.” St. X head coach Andy Porta said. “When those zeros kept mounting, it wasn’t for lack of opportunities.”

The Tigers (28-12) touched up Pfaadt for seven hits and three walks and had guys on base in each inning. They put multiple runners on base in the first, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh, but couldn’t break open a big inning till their last at bat.

“We had some great chances,” Porta said. “One time we had guys on first and second with no outs (in the fifth inning) and then he struck out the side.”

Trinity would add to its lead in the second against St. X reliever Andrew Littlefield as shortstop Clayton Mehlbauer walked, stole second and third and scored on Higgins’ single through the right side. Metzinger, who drew a two-out walk, scored on Pfaadt’s lined shot that ricocheted off Littlefield into shallow left field.

Higgins and pinch-runner Matthew Ramser executed a double steal and when the throw to third sailed into left field, Higgins trotted home to give the Rocks a 5-1 lead.

Connor Holden started the third inning for the Tigers and tossed three scoreless innings before being lifted following a leadoff walk to Brody Heil in the sixth. Holden gave up two hits, two walks and hit a batter in his three inning stint.

No one dented the scoreboard until the top of the seventh against St. X’s fourth pitcher Chris Esselman. Blair hit a one-out single, moved to third on an Esselman throwing error and scored on Mehlbauer’s fielder’s choice groundout.

Dylan Byerly, who reached base on that error, scored on Heil’s double to deep right. Heil was cut down trying to stretch the double into a triple. And the Trinity lead was extended to 7-1.

Mehlbauer was hitless, but scored a run and knocked in one.

“Those two runs we got in the seventh were huge for us,” Pfaadt said. “We needed to keep adding on because we know what St. X is capable of doing with the bats.”

Never doubt the heart of a champion and, indeed, the defending state champions would not go down quietly.

Pfaadt was pulled after retiring Cam Scheler for the first out in the seventh.

Junior left-hander Nick Parrish was summoned to face lefty hitter Esselman, but the senior worked Parrish for a walk. Parrish hit Ryan Davis and Stephen Mitchell followed with an RBI double that scored Esselman.

The woes continued for Parrish who then balked-in Davis to make it 7-3. Sam Mudd then worked Parrish for a nine-pitch walk and that prompted Arnold to call for senior closer Max Medley.

St. X catcher Chase Patton greeted Medley with a drive to the gap in left-center for a triple that scored Mitchell and Mudd and make it 7-5. He struck out Zeke Porta for the second out, but Hedges poked a single to right to score Patton’s courtesy runner Brandon Tucker to make it a one-run game.

With the tension mounting and the Tigers on the verge of an improbable comeback, Medley induced Sweeney to pop out to third to end the game.

The Rocks waited eight years for the celebration.

“So happy for these guys because they have worked so hard this past year,” Arnold said. “This is where we wanted to be and they’ve earned every bit of their success. We kept putting pressure on them with our offense and it paid off in the last inning because we needed those last two runs.”

This was the seventh consecutive trip to the 7th Region title game for St. X. They won five of those games and used that experience to propel them to state championships in 2014 and 2016.

“We knew the guys would battle to the end and we just ran out of outs,” Porta said. “I hate this feeling for these guys, these seniors. It’s tough when you have two teams who have been in the top five or top three in the state all season having to play in an elimination game just to get to the state tournament. But we know about these challenges and our seniors have had an incredible run.

“All we could do in the post-game huddle as a coaching staff was thank them from the bottom of our hearts for a wonderful, wonderful career collectively,” Porta said. “One of our coaches told them that they’ve left our program in better shape than when they arrived and that they’ve set the bar awfully high for our underclassmen.”

No. 1-ranked Trinity will be competing for its first-ever state baseball championship and will face No. 2-ranked McCracken County (32-5) in the opening round of the state tournament next Friday at 11:00 a.m. at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington.

Follow LCSN all week for features and previews of the road ahead for the Rocks. 

7th Region All-Tournament Team

  • Michael Blair, Brody Heil, Ben Metzinger, Brandon Pfaadt – Trinity
  • Ryan Davis, Ryan Hamilton, Sam Hedges – St. Xavier
  • Riley Noe, Aaron Sary - Manual
  • Tanner Head, Tyler Pence - Eastern
  • Jacob Dupps - Christian Academy
  • Tristin Garcia – Male
  • Anthony Dickerson - Central
  • Braeden Cabrera - Atherton
 

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