Kates powers Firebirds in 2-1 sectional victory over Walnut Hills

If there was ever a moment where Jacob Kates felt worried, he never showed it. Not when he struck out the side in the first inning, and certainly not when he struck out the final batter of the game.

It was Kates’ dominance and composure that pushed the third-seeded Lakota West High School baseball team past No. 16 Walnut Hills 2-1 on Thursday in a Divison I sectional semifinal at LWHS.

Throwing a complete game and allowing a lone run in the seventh, Kates racked up a career-high 13 strikeouts across 117 pitches — another career high.

“It’s huge,” West coach Greg Leurck said about the performance. “He came up big for us, especially when we didn’t hit the ball today. We did what we needed to get some runs across, but him going out and pitching the way he did was what the tournament’s about.”

With Kates, a senior right-hander, comfortably retiring Walnut batters, the Firebirds used small ball to take the lead in the fourth inning.

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After Brennen Martin singled to left to begin the inning, a Kates walk and Dominic Schivone sacrifice bunt put Martin on third. When Michael Medley then bunted down the left line, Martin scored the game’s first run.

And with the Eagles mistakenly leaving first base unattended, Medley eased to second while Kates advanced to third. Two batters later, A.J. Petersen’s infield single scored Medley. It was the turning point of the game, and one Walnut coach Jack Kuzniczi called preventable.

“The big thing is we fell asleep on that squeeze play,” he said. “We get that out, they only score one run in that situation.”

Later in the sixth, Walnut had a chance to strike, but again, Kates kept the Eagles scoreless. After Mike Sears’ double down the left-field line put Adam Seal on third with no outs, the following three batters went strikeout, strikeout and a ground out to Medley, West’s third baseman.

“He just beared down and struck guys out when he needed to,” Leurck said of his pitcher.

The Eagles eventually scored in the seventh inning, when Garrett Longeway scored on a two-out overthrown ball to first from Petersen.

Kates whiffed Sears to end the game.

The West win ended Walnut’s season at 17-10 (8-6 Eastern Cincinnati Conference). Kuzniczi considered it a success and possibly the best season in program history.

“I told the kids I was really proud of the season,” he said. “Going in, one of the kids told his parents he didn’t think we’ve have a good season. I think that’s a record for most wins in Walnut Hills history, and that’s the first time we’ve had a winning record in the league.”

As for the Firebirds (20-5, 15-3 Greater Miami Conference), they’ll play in a sectional final next Thursday at Princeton against either No. 9 La Salle or No. 20 Northwest.

Either way, Leurck hopes for another regular-season game before then for more practice. He said he’ll throw Kates in the sectional final.

“He needs the rest,” he said. “There was no way he’s going to come out of that game.”

Walnut Hills 000-000-1—1-5-3

Lakota West 000-200-x—2-6-3

WP — Jacob Kates (8-1); LP — Mike Sears (4-2). Records: WH 17-10, LW 20-5

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