High school baseball: Cross, Randall pace Belleville Henderson past Lyme to repeat as "D" Division champion

May 18—COPENHAGEN — Brittan Cross and the Belleville Henderson baseball team finished off a memorable week in style on Saturday. A day after rallying in the later innings to reach the final, the Panthers and Cross turned back rival Lyme, 12-2, to win the Frontier League's "D" Division playoff title on Copenhagen's turf field.

Cross led the way by firing a one-hitter, striking out 10 and allowing no earned runs while walking three in a game shortened to five innings because of a mercy rule.

Fellow senior Cayden Randall led the way offensively by belting a triple, a double and drove in four runs on the day, while Cross doubled, knocked in a pair of runs and scored three runs.

"It's amazing, I love it," Cross said. "This time, it wasn't 4-0, it was 12-2 and we mercied them, that was my favorite part about it."

With the win, Belleville Henderson improved to 14-2 on the season and has now won back-to-back division crowns, both in the regular season and in the playoffs.

"It's great, there's nothing like it," Randall said. "Two times in a row, regular season and playoffs, it's something, for sure."

Yet the Panthers entered the bottom of the seventh inning of Friday's semifinal against Copenhagen trailing by a run before Brandon Dodge drove in two runs to lift the team to a 4-3 victory. Cross came on in relief of starting pitcher Brady Mooney and struck out the side to set the stage for the comeback in the bottom frame.

"This is good, after last night just squeaking one out and playing real flat and everything," Gibbs said. "I told them 'today is a different day, today you come together, today we go out there and just get it done.'"

"It got to the point where I had to go in for the last inning and I threw a 10-pitch inning and then we won on a walk-off," Cross said. "That was scary, that game was scary. I was definitely relieved."

Pitching against Lyme seems to bring out the best in Cross and his teammates as he shut down the Lakers in a 5-1 win in Chaumont on May 4.

"Last night, I put Brit in just to stop them and he got the job done and then today he came out and pitched well," Gibbs said. "You can't ask for more than that."

In this meeting, Belleville Henderson struck first in the opening inning as Cross walked and scored on Randall's triple to right field.

After Lyme tied the game in the second as Derek Radley walked and later scored on a wild pitch, the Panthers would take the lead for good with two runs in the third as Dodge led off the inning by reaching on an error and later scored on a balk. Cross, who had walked, came home on Randall's flyout to center.

The Lakers got a run back in the fourth as Radley hit a leadoff triple to the right-center field gap and after Landin Sanford walked, Radley was tagged out at the plate on an attempted suicide squeeze bunt. Sanford later scored on an errant pickoff attempt at third base.

Belleville Henderson then broke through by scoring six runs in the bottom of the inning, by generating five consecutive hits as well as drawing two walks.

"Our bats came alive today and we came ready to hit," Randall said. "We just turned our bats on, we came out with a different attitude, I think."

The frame was highlighted by a sharp RBI single by Dodge to center field, a two-run single from Cross down the left field line, an RBI double to left by Kadon Nolder and a two-run double to right from Randall to build an 8-2 advantage.

"He's hitting great, I always rely on him when I get on base," Cross said of Randall. "He knocks in a lot of runners, that's why he's in the No. 3 hole."

The Panthers scored three more runs in the fifth to put the game away, keyed by an run-scoring single from Dodge, who later scored on a ground out by Randall to complete the scoring.

"We hit the ball well up and down the lineup today, which is nice to see," Gibbs said. "We made some good contact today."

In the meantime, Cross struck out the side in both the second and third innings to work out of trouble.

Radley's double proved to be the lone hit of the game for Lyme on Saturday as sophomore pitcher Cooper Kaplan was dealt the loss. Senior Evan Froelich, the team's main starter, was unavailable to start against Belleville Henderson after throwing more than 100 pitches in an 8-5 victory at South Lewis on Thursday.

"Today was a different pitcher, he was throwing offspeed stuff, we just had to time it up and go," Gibbs said.

Belleville Henderson repeated as division playoff champion after besting Lyme in last year's final, backed by the pitching of Cross.

"This is the icing on cake to come back and repeat," Gibbs said. "Repeat league, repeat playoffs and push those guys back."

"It's definitely better doing it against these kids, it's a rivalry and they're not the nicest to us," Randall said. " ... So it felt good to beat them because they just don't play right."

It's also been quite a week for Cross, who fired a no-hitter, striking out 21 and walking none in a 5-0 regular-season home win against Copenhagen on Monday.

"That was crazy, I didn't expect that," Cross said. "I pitched well in that game last year and I threw 18 or 19 strikeouts and I ended up throwing 21 this time. I just got to where I was hitting the zone where ever I wanted to."

Last year on the strength of winning the division and playoff titles, Belleville Henderson made a deep run into sectionals by winning a pair of games to reach the Class D final where it was defeated by Oriskany.

"It means the world because we're a really small school, but we have a bigger heart than any other team out here," Cross said of the back-to-back division titles. "And it just shows small schools can do the same thing."

Now the Panthers and Lakers will await their respective seedings in the Class D sectional playoffs, with brackets to be announced on Sunday.

"I feel great, we're going to do very well," Cross said. "Hopefully we're going to go back to the finals and if Oriskany's in there, we're going to win this time."

Randall added: "I feel confident going into sectionals with the team we have and we're ready. After this, we're ready."