Cincinnati Christian blanked by Heath in regional finals

FAIRBORN — The lose-and-go-home nature of high school baseball tournaments made Jim Birch wish for more.

His first season coaching the Cincinnati Christian seniors ended abruptly Friday at Wright State’s Nischwitz Stadium. Heath put the ball in play to scratch out runs and got strong pitching the defeat the Cougars 4-0 in the Division III regional final.

“I would have loved to play some series against some of these guys and see what could happen because in one game, a hit here, a bloop there makes all the difference,” Birch said.

Heath is happy with the single-elimination format. The Bulldogs return to the state semifinals for the second straight year next week in Akron. The Cougars (24-6) set a school record for victories and played in the regionals for the third time and first time in Division III. They made it this far in 2018 and 2019 in Division IV.

“The seniors were ready to lead,” Birch said. “It was basically just coming in settling things down and letting the players be able to do what they needed to do. I give them credit. They bought into the coaching philosophy from all the coaches. We just played the same brand of baseball, and it kept us in every single game.”

Friday was no different. Starter Seth Halsey, a sophomore, pitched four innings and allowed three runs on two hits and four walks. Senior Timmy Nagel pitched the fifth and sixth innings and allowed one run on two hits and a walk.

“Our pitchers did a great job, and we’ve played five playoff games and we’ve made zero errors,” Birch said. “We kept ourselves in every single game.”

Heath batters struck out only four times and found ways to score. The Bulldogs loaded the bases with two singles and a walk in the third inning. Then two slow ground balls produced a 2-0 lead. Another grounder in the fifth made the score 3-0. Finally a single in the sixth made it 4-0. A perfect throw from left fielder Luke Fischer to catcher T.J. Selvie cut down a runner at the plate or it would have been a two-run single.

Meanwhile, Heath pitcher Riley Baum kept the Cougars off balance with three hits and two walks. He struck out only four but induced a lot of soft contact.

“He didn’t give in for one second, and he just was pumping the strike zone,” Birch said. “They made a couple of really nice plays when it counted, and he did a great job against what I think was a great lineup for us.”

Nagel had two of the Cougars’ hits, a line single to right to start the game and a double to right-center with two outs in the third. But a day after stringing together nine hits in a 4-2 win over Brookville, the Cougars couldn’t do the same against Baum.

“The pitcher was on,” Nagel said. “He was throwing great. We struggled catching up to the fastball and adjusting to the off speed. He was spotting it pretty well.”

Nagel and six other seniors helped Birch’s tenure get off to good start and make the younger players hungry for more.

“We just adapted really well,” Nagel said. “In the offseason, Coach Birch showing up every workout and stuff really motivated us to come out and perform.”

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