Aces edge Eagles in extras

Following a multiple-day delay because of inclement weather, Owensboro Catholic and Apollo battled in a back-and-forth instant-classic Friday afternoon as the Aces claimed a 7-6 victory in nine innings in the 9th District Baseball Tournament championship game at Daviess County High School.

Both teams automatically advance to next week’s 3rd Region Tournament at Breckinridge County High School, with matchups to be drawn Saturday.

“I thought both teams were really good today,” said OCHS head coach Jody Hamilton. “We knew we were going to break up the game, pitching-wise. Everybody got a couple innings in.

“Offensively, we had some really timely hits. Parker Heistand and Mason Moser had two unbelievable tournaments. If there was an outstanding player for this tournament, Parker only had one out in two games. I’m really pleased; this was a tough one.”

Heistand led off the top of the ninth with an infield base hit, Moser moved him to second base with a bunt, and, after Eli Blair reached safely on an error, Houston Flynn clubbed a base hit to center field that drove in the go-ahead run.

The Eagles’ Ross Milburn struck out the next batter looking and then forced a fly out to keep his team’s deficit at one run.

In the bottom of the ninth, however, the Aces didn’t allow a runner on base. Blair snagged a hard-hit line drive from Easton Blandford for the first out, Catholic forced a groundout, and Luke Quinn closed the game with a three-pitch strikeout to secure the Aces’ third district title in the last four years.

“It was whoever got a big hit first, and we did,” Hamilton said of the game’s extra innings.

Catholic (26-7) opened scoring in the top of the second inning on Moser’s RBI ground out that scored Barrett Evans, who got on with a fielder’s choice grounder to shortstop.

Apollo (22-8) answered with two runs in the bottom of the frame to take the lead. Blandford and Will Strode drew consecutive walks, both advanced on a sacrifice bunt from Ty Lillpop, and the duo then scored with Brock Burger’s two-run base hit to right field.

The Aces had a response in the top of the third, plating four runs for a 5-2 edge. Jaxson White led off with a double, Brady Atwell got on with an error, and Deuce Sims was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Two batters later, Evans grounded into a game-tying RBI fielder’s choice. Heistand drew a two-out, full-count walk to again load the bases, Moser clubbed a two-RBI single to center, and Blair hit an RBI grounder to right for a three-run advantage.

Apollo cut into the Aces’ lead with two runs in the bottom of the fourth. Michael Chaney and Burger hit consecutive singles, setting up Garrett Lanham’s RBI sacrifice fly. Three batters later, Sam Holder hit a run-scoring line drive to right field to bring the Eagles to within 5-4.

Catholic extended its lead to 6-4 in the top of the fifth after Heistand led off with a single and later scored on Flynn’s RBI base hit.

The Eagles tied the game with two more runs in the bottom of the sixth, spurred by Grayson Smith’s two-run line drive to left.

Neither team scored over the next two innings, setting the stage for Catholic’s late score.

Heistand went 3-for-4 with three runs for the Aces, White went 3-for-4 with a run, Flynn added two runs and two RBIs, Blair finished with two hits and an RBI, and Evans scored twice.

Quinn earned the pitching win, tallying one strikeout and giving up one hit over the final three innings.

Burger went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs for Apollo, Smith went 2-for-5 with two RBIs, and Holder was 2-for-4 with an RBI.

“I thought the guys played great,” said Eagles coach Brandon Dennis, noting that the weather delays changed Apollo’s approach to the game. “We keep having this deal where, I don’t know what’s happening, but every district in the state has been finished for two or three days and we’re two days away from the reason we’re doing this. The same goes for last year.

“We know who we are — we are a pitching-first team, and we have some guys we can run out there that they get better as they go — and today, we weren’t able to play the way that we wanted to play because of the schedule. ... Luckily, we had some success doing it this way last year, and the guys know what we’re doing, but one time I’d like to have the opportunity to go out and straight-up compete for a district championship and see how it goes. So, maybe we can figure that schedule out next year or the year after.”

Still, Apollo’s confidence moving forward is unwavering.

“Once we fell behind, I thought we did a great job coming back,” Dennis added. “We had some clutch hits in some situations, played some small ball, bunted some guys around and got big hits. ... I’m proud of the way the guys competed, and I feel really good about going into next week.”

The Aces simply want to continue the momentum.

“I just want to keep going,” Hamilton said. “Have a great attitude, a lot of energy — that’s about it. We’ve been tournament-ready and tested now at the All ‘A’ regional, the All ‘A’ state and now the district tournament.”

OWENSBORO CATHOLIC 014 010 001 — 7 13 2

APOLLO 020 202 000 — 6 10 2

WP-Quinn. LP-Milburn. 2B-White (OC).