Big-league experience: Edgewood savors SWOC win, chance to play at GABP

Edgewood’s Mason Whiteley is surrounded by teammates Kody McCarley (7) and Bryce Davis (right) after scoring the winning run Saturday during a 2-1 Southwest Ohio Conference baseball win over Harrison at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The game was part of the Skyline Chili Reds Futures High School Showcase. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
Caption
Edgewood’s Mason Whiteley is surrounded by teammates Kody McCarley (7) and Bryce Davis (right) after scoring the winning run Saturday during a 2-1 Southwest Ohio Conference baseball win over Harrison at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The game was part of the Skyline Chili Reds Futures High School Showcase. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

CINCINNATI — Ralph Lunsford couldn’t hide his excitement Saturday afternoon. A victory simply added to the joy.

His Edgewood High School baseball team got a chance to play at Great American Ball Park, home of the Cincinnati Reds, as part of the Skyline Chili Reds Futures High School Showcase. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most prep players and coaches.

The Cougars took advantage of the big stage by rallying for a 2-1 Southwest Ohio Conference triumph over Harrison, with Mason Whiteley scoring on a two-out wild pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning.

» PHOTOS: Rick Cassano’s 46-image gallery from GABP

“It was just a great experience … the Reds, the ballpark, our kids, our fans,” Lunsford said. “I was like an 18-year-old myself today. I didn’t sleep much last night. Waking up today was Christmas morning.”

Kody McCarley earned the Player of the Game award for throwing 7.2 innings of four-hit ball, striking out nine and walking four in a bulldog performance.

“What an outing by Kody,” Lunsford said. “I felt like he was in command the whole time. He pitched his guts out.”

McCarley, a senior right-hander, said it was a special day for him.

“Man, it was different being on that mound,” he said. “You’re not looking at a middle school behind your field. You’re looking at Great American Insurance, a big, old building. My kids will hear about this.

“My knees were knocking pretty bad in the first inning. I was pretty nervous. But I got used to it and started throwing strikes.”

Whiteley picked up the win by retiring the only batter he faced in the top of the eighth. He didn’t feel good about McCarley getting a no-decision for his efforts.

Edgewood coach Ralph Lunsford and Kody McCarley share a laugh at home plate during Saturday’s 2-1 Southwest Ohio Conference baseball victory over Harrison at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The game was part of the Skyline Chili Reds Futures High School Showcase. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
Caption
Edgewood coach Ralph Lunsford and Kody McCarley share a laugh at home plate during Saturday’s 2-1 Southwest Ohio Conference baseball victory over Harrison at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The game was part of the Skyline Chili Reds Futures High School Showcase. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

“It wasn’t so much about throwing in a major-league park to me. It was about taking the ball from Kody when you see that look on his face,” said Whiteley, a sophomore shortstop. “I mean, sitting back and watching him do his thing was amazing. That was just as good as being here in Great American Ball Park. What more can you ask from a starting pitcher? That’s ridiculous.”

Pitching ruled the day with McCarley and Harrison junior right-hander Sean Lawhorn, who gave up three hits, struck out four and walked four in seven innings of work.

Whiteley became the third pitcher of the day after the Wildcats put runners on first and second in the eighth. Hayden Bill walked with one out and Lawhorn singled sharply to left field with two outs, prompting Lunsford to make the pitching change.

McCarley clearly wasn’t happy about being relieved, but thought he had reached the Ohio High School Athletic Association limit of 125 pitches. He said all six of his pitches were working, including a knuckleball that “worked a little bit better than it usually does.”

“I think he was at 118 and looked like he just lost a little gas,” Lunsford said. “It was one of the hardest trips I’ve ever made to go to the mound and get him out of there. We just thought Mason would keep the ball down, throw strikes and get us a ground ball.”

Edgewood’s Shane Watts fouls off a pitch Saturday during a 2-1 Southwest Ohio Conference baseball victory over Harrison at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The game was part of the Skyline Chili Reds Futures High School Showcase. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
Caption
Edgewood’s Shane Watts fouls off a pitch Saturday during a 2-1 Southwest Ohio Conference baseball victory over Harrison at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The game was part of the Skyline Chili Reds Futures High School Showcase. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

Whiteley did get a ground ball, retiring cleanup hitter Micah Childs on a 6-3 play.

“Throw strikes and don’t give up a hit because I knew I’d hear about it from Kody,” Whiteley said of his mind-set on the mound. “I knew if we got an out right there, we’d come in and win the ballgame in the bottom of the inning.”

Sam Cross started the bottom of the eighth on the hill for the Wildcats and walked Whiteley, who then went to second on a passed ball. The count was 2-0 on Shane Watts when Harrison coach Shawn Sowders brought Carter Daniel in to pitch.

Watts was intentionally walked, Alex Gavern struck out and Max Collett advanced the runners to second and third with a ground out. Bryce Davis was at the plate when Daniel threw a breaking ball in the dirt that got past Childs, his catcher.

“Once I saw the ball kick away from the catcher’s knee, I was gone,” Whiteley said. “I didn’t have anything except home plate in front of me.”

“We had told Whiteley when they changed pitchers, ‘If we get you to third, read it, use your baseball instincts, and if a passed ball gets away, we’re going to try to gamble,’ ” Lunsford said. “I didn’t even tell him to go. As soon as it hit the dirt and I saw it kick off, I just threw my hands up because I knew he was going to be safe.”

Edgewood, 7-9 overall and 4-4 in the SWOC, scored its other run in the sixth when Watts singled, Gavern doubled and Collett delivered an RBI grounder.

Grant Morse had a run-scoring single for Harrison (4-12, 1-7) in the second.

“I thought the two pitchers dominated the game,” Wildcats coach Shawn Sowders said. “I thought their pitcher threw a heckuva game. He was very effective low and away all day long.

Edgewood’s Conner Beckman (32) reacts to being called out at second base after a tag by Harrison’s Coby Campbell on Saturday at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Edgewood won 2-1 in a Southwest Ohio Conference baseball game that was part of the Skyline Chili Reds Futures High School Showcase. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
Caption
Edgewood’s Conner Beckman (32) reacts to being called out at second base after a tag by Harrison’s Coby Campbell on Saturday at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Edgewood won 2-1 in a Southwest Ohio Conference baseball game that was part of the Skyline Chili Reds Futures High School Showcase. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

“Lawhorn pitched a great game as well. He was probably out of juice in the fifth inning, but he gutted it up and went out in the sixth, and we were going to have a fistfight if I tried to take him out in the seventh. He had plenty of pitches to go, but we haven’t extended him that far and his mechanics were starting to go south a little bit, so why risk it? You bring in another guy. We should have more than one guy that can throw the ball, right?”

Sowders said he thought about walking Davis to load the bases in the eighth, but he figured facing Davis was a better bet than giving McCarley a chance to hit with the bases full.

“And I was worried about walks,” Sowders said. “We’ve been walking a lot of batters this year.”

Sowders said his young squad has improved since starting the season 0-6. Saturday marked Harrison’s fifth appearance at GABP, and the veteran coach said it never gets old.

“Gosh, no,” Sowders said. “What a great atmosphere. I think our coaches get just as excited as our kids do.”

The Cougars had lost six of their last seven games before Saturday. They will return to SWOC play at home Monday against Mount Healthy.

“We’re pretty much accustomed to doing things the hard way,” Lunsford said. “It’s still one of my favorite teams. We haven’t gotten the wins we wanted this year, but we’re still a work in progress. We’re a lot more mature than we were at the beginning of the year. I like the direction we’re going.

“We can use this as a springboard for the rest of the season. We’ve still got to get the bat on the ball. We’ve had great pitching the last couple outings, but we haven’t given them the run support that they need. Today, we gave them just enough.”

Harrison will host Elder on Sunday afternoon for their annual Military Appreciation Game. Sowders said about 50 veterans will be on hand, and all money raised will go toward funding a veteran’s honor flight to Washington, D.C.

Harrison 010-000-00—1-4-0

Edgewood 000-001-01—2-3-1

WP — Mason Whiteley (2-1); LP — Sam Cross (0-1). Records: H 4-12, 1-7 SWOC; E 7-9, 4-4 SWOC