West, 10-9 overall and 10-7 in the GMC, has already been eliminated from title contention. That may have made Saturday’s win even a little sweeter.
“I truly believe we are playing our best baseball at the right time,” first-year Firebirds coach Brad Gschwind said. “I know the record over the last three or four games doesn’t say it, but we’ve lost some close baseball games to good ballclubs. I’m really happy for our guys.”
The West victory gave Mason at least a share of the conference crown — the Comets (16-1) will finish GMC play Monday at home against Sycamore.
East (16-3, 14-2) needs to win at West on Sunday afternoon and at Colerain on Monday while hoping for a Mason defeat.
Lakota East’s Will Koger is safe at second base ahead of the throw to Lakota West’s Cooper Walker on Saturday afternoon during a Greater Miami Conference baseball game at East. West won 5-3 in nine innings. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
“If we get help, great, but I don’t count on it,” Thunderhawks coach Ray Hamilton said. “I really don’t focus on anything other than our guys and how we’re playing. The one thing about this team is you never really get too worried because they’re always finding a way to win. Today, we just didn’t.”
Saturday’s game started Wednesday and was tied 1-1 in the top of the fifh inning when inclement weather suspended play. It was picked up with West runners on first and third and nobody out.
Both of those runners scored — on a bases-loaded walk to Cooper Walker and an RBI single by Kurt Riesenberg — but East countered with two runs of its own in the bottom of the frame. Sean Church had an RBI single and Mitchell Vincent crossed home plate by executing some first-and-third base running.
Firebirds hurler Alex Jarboe retired the last eight Thunderhawks. East stranded two runners in the bottom of the seventh.
Lakota East’s Preston Dorsey reacts after a fifth-inning single Saturday afternoon during a Greater Miami Conference baseball game against visiting Lakota West in Liberty Township. West won 5-3 in nine innings. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
“We were right on the verge of winning,” Hamilton said. “I really thought our guys would come around at the plate and I’d get a couple guys in scoring position, which we did. We just didn’t get a big hit.”
Nate Haberthier pitched into the fifth inning Wednesday for East, and Andrew Bachman went the rest of the way Saturday. They combined on a four-hitter with 14 strikeouts.
Max Kiker was West’s Wednesday starter and Jarboe went the distance Saturday. They pitched a seven-hitter with seven strikeouts.
“Alex Jarboe came out today and did an outstanding job,” Gschwind said. “That’s a very good baseball team over there. Our kids just kept coming. The ball bounced our way today.”
Bachman issued back-to-back walks to West’s Jake Freyberg and Walker with one out in the ninth. Riesenberg’s ground out moved pinch-runner Braden Meyer and Walker up a base, setting the stage for the game-winning hit.
Hall was 0-for-2 with a sacrifice bunt and got hit by a pitch in his first four plate appearances in the two-day affair.
“He’s not an easy pitcher to hit at all,” Hall said of Bachman, a sophomore southpaw. “I had no choice but to exude confidence because whether or not I was actually confident, I was walking up to the plate like I was.”
Lakota West’s players celebrate Saturday afternoon after a 5-3, nine-inning Greater Miami Conference baseball victory at Lakota East. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
He drove a Bachman pitch into left-center field for the deciding runs.
“It was an inside fastball, right where I wanted it,” Hall said. “It was pretty much the best feeling I could’ve asked for. I didn’t even feel it come off the bat. Once I got to second base, it didn’t really register what happened until everybody came out and congratulated me.”
And the feeling that comes with taking down the rival Thunderhawks?
“I grew up playing with half of East’s team,” Hall said. “To come out here and ruin their GMC championship, I hate to say it, but it feels great.”
Vincent contributed a Wednesday sacrifice fly for East, which figures to be among the top seeds in Sunday’s Division I Cincinnati sectional draw.
Following the draw, the Thunderhawks will travel to West at 5 p.m. The starting pitchers will be Grayson Hamilton for East and Joey Gelter for the Firebirds on Senior Day.
Ray Hamilton said he’s not worried about where the Thunderhawks get seeded. “Wherever we end up, we’ll try to take the best path for our guys to play a while,” he added.
West has likely earned some respect as well. The Firebirds have five losses by three or less runs this season.
“I think our record doesn’t show the heart that we have,” Hall said. “I think we’re just excited to get this tournament going and start fresh.”
Lakota West 001-020-002—5-4-0
Lakota East 001-020-000—3-7-4
WP — Alex Jarboe (4-1); LP — Andrew Bachman (1-2). Records: LW 10-9, 10-7 GMC; LE 16-3, 14-2 GMC