By Brad Morris
ATHENS — Circleville tried to change momentum of the Division II Southeast District final by scoring twice in the fifth inning on Wednesday to tie the game, but Washington Court House countered with two runs in its half of the frame to take the lead for good on its way to a 4-2 win at Ohio University.
Matt Bradley started the CHS rally with a perfect push bunt between the pitcher’s mound and first base to reach. Scott Moats then legged out an infield single to second and Austin Gray was hit by a pitch to load the sacks full of Tigers with one out.
Tate DeBord followed with a sacrifice fly to right that scored Bradley and put the Tigers on the scoreboard. Nolan West knocked in Moats with the tying run on an infield single to shortstop to tie the game.
The top-seeded Blue Lions came right back in their half of the frame.
Evan Lynch tripled to right and was joined on the base pads when John Wall worked a four-pitch walk. Titus Lotz then hit a sacrifice fly to right that knocked in Lynch. AJ Dallmayer followed by lining a single to center to knock in Wall with an insurance run.
“We talked to our guys going into the fifth about playing loose and having fun, like we did to get here, and they responded by scoring a couple of runs to tie the game,” Circleville coach Brian Bigam said. “Another thing we talk about is holding the other team scoreless after we put a crooked number on the scoreboard and, unfortunately, we were not able to do that, and Court House was able to get its two-run lead right back.”
Washington Court House (25-1) went ahead 1-0 in the first when Jonah Waters lined a single to right that knocked in Wall.
The Tigers (19-12) tried to tie the game in their next at-bat.
Trent Smith lined a single to right, JD Reuter worked a walk and Drew Thornsley singled to center. Dallmayer made a strong throw to Waters, who tagged Trent Smith out at the plate to deny the Tigers the tying run.
Wall started the home third by lining a single to center. DeBord caught Wall off first base on a pickoff attempt, but an error on the rundown allowed Wall to advance to second.
Dallmayer then lined out to West at third base, who alertly threw onto second to try and double off Wall, who was called safe by the umpire on a bang-bang play. Waters followed with a single to left to knock in Wall for the second run of the game.
“I thought we had Wall out twice during that inning. Tate had a great pickoff move, but we couldn’t finish it and then Nolan made a nice grab on a lineout and then made a quick throw to second. It was close there, as well,” Bigam said.
Wall, Dallmayer and Waters had two hits apiece for the Blue Lions, who hoisted their second consecutive district championship trophy after the game and advance to a regional semifinal against Mid-State League Buckeye Division champion Bloom-Carroll, who defeated Jonathan Alder 9-6 last night.
DeBord allowed six hits and three runs, two earned, in four-plus innings of work. He walked none and struck out four. Moats tossed the final two frames, yielding two hits, an earned run, a walk and struck out a batter.
Tanner Lemaster, who has signed to play football at Kentucky, earned the win by allowing six hits and two earned runs in five innings. He walked a batter, hit another and struck out five. Dallmayer nailed down the save by walking one and striking out four in two innings.
The Tigers entered the tournament after finishing third in the MSL-Buckeye and were seeded seventh out of 18 teams. Circleville upset second-seeded Sheridan 8-1 in a sectional final. The Generals (23-5) won the Muskingum Valley League Big School Division and were ranked eighth in the final Division II state coaches’ poll of the season.
Circleville then had a memorable district semifinal against third-seeded Unioto under the lights of Bob Wren Stadium. After giving up a 4-1 lead in the sixth, the Tigers responded in their last at-bat with three runs to claim a 7-5 win and advance to a district final for the first time since 2018.
Unioto (24-3), the champions of the Scioto Valley Conference, was ranked third in the final coaches’ poll.
“If you told me a month ago that we would have been here in the district final, I would have laughed at you,” Bigam said. “We weren’t playing very good baseball then, but our guys found their way, they put things together and they were playing their best baseball of the season here at the end.
“We’ve had a number of different guys step up and contribute to this, making big pitches, plays in the field, getting timely hits and also playing some small ball with good bunts and being aggressive at times on the bases when we needed to be.”
Unfortunately, the Tigers’ season came to an end for a second consecutive season at the hands of their former South Central Ohio League rival, after the Blue Lions defeated CHS 2-1 in a district semifinal last year.
“Washington Court House has a very good team and every time we’ve played them, it’s been a good game,” Bigam said. “This was another battle where our guys tried to grind, but they made a couple of more plays and got a bounce or two that we didn’t get.”
The Tigers will have 11 young men receive their diplomas on Friday night in the high school gymnasium — Bradley, Moats, DeBord, West, Logan Smith, Angelo Travis, Carsen Wickline, Parker Kidwell, Keegan Piper, Hunter Davis and RJ Thompson.
“When you have a team that is so senior-dependent, you wonder what will happen if you face adversity,” Bigam said. “Some teams get tough and find a way and others, to be honest, will throw in the towel and get ready for graduation and summer. Like I said earlier, we were at a crossroads about a month ago and these guys wanted to make something of their season and they grinded their way to a district final and made a tournament run.
“I enjoyed coaching and being around these group of guys and I know they are going to go on in life and be successful, and that’s the most important thing of all.”