By Tim Taylor
It was youth against experience in the All A Sectional Tournament at Brooks Stadium on Friday night. University Heights eighth grader Drew McGowan threw against Ballard Memorial senior Clay Newton in a pitching duel. McGowan pitched a superb game allowing only one run on four hits and striking out six in his complete game, but that one run was all the Bombers needed to claim the win and advance to the Elite 8 in Lexington. Newton one upped the middle schooler as he allowed only three hits and no runs while allowing four walks and striking out 11 Blazer batters in six innings. Adison Wildharber came in to close the game out allowing one hit and striking out one to secure the shutout. Ballard Memorial Coach Tremayne Donald also coached McGowan in the summer league and knew he would be tough. "That kid on the mound was pretty good," said Donald. He added, "It was a hard fought ball game. It is all about winning and advancing, whether pretty or not." On the pitching performance of his senior, Donald said, "It was big for Clay. He wasn't anywhere near his best. He just pitched on Wednesday against Graves." That says a lot about the team's confidence in their senior pitcher. Even when he was not at his best and pitching on little rest, he still struck out 11 batters in allowing the Bombers to advance.
Newton got off to a shaky start for the Bombers. He jumped ahead 1-2 on the first batter, but ended up walking the Blazer lead-off hitter. After getting the second batter to hit into a fielder's choice, he walked the third hitter in the line-up, putting runners on first and second. Newton then got the opening game jitters out of the way and forced the next batter to hit a soft fly to Lee Chandler at short. He then struck out the next batter to end the threat. The Bombers looked to strike early as leadoff hitter Bradley Roberts reached on an error by the shortstop. As he tried to steal second, Wildharber was called for catcher interference, forcing Roberts out. The Bombers would not get another baserunner on until the third. Newton, who struck out the last batter in the first, struck out the next five batters he faced. A two out single in the third was followed up by ground out to Andrew Burton to end the Blazers third inning. In the Bombers half of the third, they manufactured the only run of the game. Burton started the inning with a single into shallow right field that the diving second baseman could not catch. He promptly stole second and then a wild pitch allowed him to advance to third with no outs. Jakob Worley was unable to get down the sacrifice bunt, but drew a walk to put runners on the corner. Worley did a delay steal and got caught in a run down between first and second. As the shortstop threw back to first to get Worley out, Burton broke for home and beat the throw to put the Bombers up 1-0. Burton said after the game, "Great coaching. Jakob had a great delay steal which let me go home. That was a great job on his part." Coach Donald said it was a designed play and Worley did his job to get in the run down and Burton read the throw and left at the right time to steal home for the winning run.
Back on the mound, Newton struck out his seventh of the last nine batters faced to start the fourth. Back to back walks put the tying run on second with one out. But Newton would not be denied as he struck out the next two batters to end any potential Blazer opportunity. The Bombers then looked to put some insurance runs on the board in the fifth. A Cavin Foster single started the inning and a Chandler bunt single put runners on first and second with no outs. Burton struck out and Worley was hit by the pitch to put bases loaded with one out. Cody Collier could not make contact and was struck out and Roberts hard hit ball to left center was tracked down by the centerfielder to end the threat. Newton then allowed a lead-off single to start the sixth, but followed that up by striking out his tenth and eleventh batters on the night. The courtesy runner tried to steal second, but catcher Evan Lawrence threw him out at second to end the inning. The Bombers again threatened in the sixth. Wildharber singled to start the inning, then stole second. Lawrence had a sacrifice bunt to advance Wildharber to third. Newton hit to a drawn in shortstop, who was playing in to try and prevent another run. He handled the ball and was able to throw Wildharber out at the plate. Newton stole second and advanced to third on a pass ball. Foster walked and stole second with Chandler at the plate and two outs. He hit a hard shot into the outfield, but it was caught for the third out. Wildharber came in to close the game out. He gave up a weak infield single to start the inning. The next batter did a sacrifice bunt to advance the potential tying run to second with one out. The next batter flew out to Foster in left field for the second out. Wildharber was called for a balk to put the tying run on third, but he promptly ended any idea of a tie by striking out Austin Fields to end the game and send the Bombers to Lexington. "It feels great," said winning pitcher Clay Newton as he added, "I am ready for state. We are going to win it all." Burton added on winning the game, "We had no doubt in our mind. That was our game plan to kick their butts and go to Lexington for a nice weekend trip and hopefully win the state championship." Burton lead the team going 1-2 with the only run scored. The three other Bombers to get base hits were Wildharber, Foster, and Chandler, while Worley was able to reach base twice, once with a walk and the other after being hit by a pitch. On making a run at the title, pitching, defense, and timely hitting will be key. On leaving five runners on base in the last two innings against the Blazers, Coach Donald said, "That is what we talked about after the ballgame. In order to win a state championship, you cannot leave runners on base."
The Bombers also played two big district games on Wednesday at Graves County before the sectional game. The double header on Wednesday saw the Eagles pound the Bombers 6-0 in the opener, but Ballard Memorial responded by taking the second game 6-2. The Bombers have another important district game on Monday night, April 27 at Mayfield. Donald said on the opening game against the Eagles and having a district battle with Mayfield before going to Lexington, "I think they learned their lesson about not being focused. We weren't prepared to play. We've got to mature and take care of business at hand."
The Bombers are 18-2 on the year and 1-1 in district play. They continue their run at the state title on Saturday morning at Whitaker Bank Park in Lexington facing Eighth Region's Carroll County. Game time is set for 9:00 central time. Semifinals will be 7:30 central time Sunday morning and the championship game is noon central time Sunday.