Patriots blast away woes against CatsApril 22, 2014
By JOSEPH FANELLI
Herald Sports Writer
JASPER — This is supposed to be the part when the Heritage Hills baseball team, finally standing victorious above a sectional nemesis, breaks down because of the sheer weight of the moment. The part where the emotional baggage becomes too much after finally beating a team that’s held the Patriots to three total runs in five contests dating back to 2011, including a pair of 10-plus-run defeats in back-to-back sectional championship losses.
There were cheers, there were fist bumps. But the only admission that could be pulled from Patriot shortstop Logan Wilkerson was a nod toward the win and some relief in the Heritage Hills bats finally finding some contact.
“We just try to come in and compete and we played really well tonight,” said Wilkerson, who finished 2-for-3 with three RBIs. “I think that’s our first time this year we’ve gotten more than eight hits in a game. We put it together, finally.”
Emphasis on the “finally,” as the Pats snagged a wild, weird and oftentimes rainy one Monday at Ruxer Field with an 11-6 win against Class 3A No. 3 Jasper, their first victory against the Cats in their last five tries.
In a game that featured 22 hits and eight errors, Heritage Hills (6-4) handed Jasper (7-3) its second loss in three days with a six-run fifth inning and home runs from Wilkerson and Tyler Ward, who has had his personal trail of tears against Jasper in past encounters.
The junior was at the helm of the Pats’ last two sectional losses to Jasper, surrendering 13 runs in four innings a year ago and lasting just two innings during an 18-1 smackdown his freshman season in 2012.
On Monday, Ward (4-0) gave up 11 hits, but never yielded more than two runs in an inning while stretching a pitch count past 115.
“I just decided after the fourth inning it was going to be (Ward’s) game the rest of the way,” Patriot coach Dave Sensenbrenner said. “We (scored) a six-spot (in the fifth) so that made it a little easier on him, so you back it down a little bit, throw 80 percent of what he was throwing and hope our defense could come through for him.”
“It was real big for Tyler. A big confidence boost,” Wilkerson said. “He’s been pitching well all year. He threw a one-hitter against (Evansville) Memorial and it’s good for all of us to be behind him and him to get the win finally. He probably feels great.”
Ward’s three-run homer on a 2-1 pitch from Craig Shepherd (2-1) in the third inning flipped a two-run deficit into a 4-3 Patriot advantage. The Cats knotted it at 4-all in the fourth with an RBI double by Ben Moore (3-for-4, two doubles), but Heritage Hills quickly retook the lead with a five-hit, six-run fifth inning that left Jasper coach Terry Gobert anything but pleased.
“You’re not going to win many games or get very far in the tournament giving up six in an inning,” Gobert said. “They took it to us, but they deserved to win.”
Heritage Hills loaded the bases with a double by Kenton Crews, a single from Drew Grass and an intentional walk to Ward to start the inning. Shepherd next fanned Cory Ebelhar for one of his five strikeouts, but Dugan Kippenbrock knocked in one with an RBI single and the Pats scored again after Tyler Begle couldn’t control a grounder at shortstop. Another throwing error to first scored Cody Seifrig from third and Wilkerson knocked in two on a single.
It was the kind of mini-meltdown Gobert has become all-to familiar with.
“We’re just making too many mistakes to beat good baseball teams,” Gobert said. “We’re not using our outs. You could go every inning, we’re just doing something that’s not very smart baseball.”
Whether it was four errors or a runner in scoring position getting picked off in the fourth inning or a baserunning gaffe that ended a potential rally with a double play, Gobert was candid in his thoughts about the state of his team and the possible solutions.
“It’s unacceptable. If you can’t change it, you just try different people,” he said. “It’s early, but we’ve got to grow up a little bit.”
Wilkerson’s solo shot in the sixth off reliever Landon Ball spiked Heritage Hills’ advantage to 11-6. The 11 hits by the Pats were their most of the season and also broke up a streak of 14 scoreless inning from Shepherd, who hadn’t allowed an earned run this season.
“We’ve been averaging three to four hits a ballgame and haven’t even been putting the ball in play,” Sensenbrenner said. “We tried to get on them about swinging the bat and getting good pitches to hit and I thought we did a better job of that.”
Heritage Hills committed four errors but also turned a pair of double plays, both initiated by Wilkerson. That helped the Patriots gain a little mental encouragement, according to Sensenbrenner, in a pleasant outcome after years of poundings and close calls versus the Cats.
“The last two years, (Jasper has) pretty well owned us in the sectional. ... So sooner or later you’ve got to change things around, at least make things competitive so when you walk on the field, you’ve at least got a little bit of an edge,” Sensenbrenner said. “It makes a difference for our kids to go out and play the way they did.”
“We’ve got a long way to go,” he added. “We play Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday (and) Friday this week so we’ve got serious ballgames we’ve got to keep playing, and hopefully this gives us some momentum.”
Contact Joseph Fanelli
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