GNADENHUTTEN — When Bubby Reese grabbed a fly ball right for the final on Thursday night, the first person to rush to the mound to congratulate JT Thompson was Cooper Blackburn.
Thompson, working in relief, had just recorded a 1 2/3 inning stoppage after Big Red ace Blackburn ran out of gas in fifth in the Division II, Region 7 semi-final Thursday in Indian Valley. And the strikeout sealed a 6-3 win for Big Red over New Philadelphia and a trip to today’s regional championship.
The greeting, however, was symbolic of something even bigger – how the adversity the team faced all season tied them together at the most important moment, pulling themselves together and finding a way to win.
“There’s something about these guys,” said veteran Big Red coach Fred Heatherington. “We have great team chemistry and they don’t let it get us down… we’re together and we love being together and we’re playing hard.
“Nobody cares who does it, as long as we do it. It doesn’t matter how we won, the important thing is that we won.
Blackburn, who had allowed just one unearned run going the distance in his last three starts – the last two of which were in the tournament – went through five innings with just one unearned run in the first allowed and his team leading 6-1, having fanned five.
With one out in the sixth, however, the Quakers (16-11) were not going to go easy. Blackburn issued their only two walks of the game and New Philly cut the deficit to 6-3 with a run on a passed ball and a Maddox Brown RBI brace.
Heatherington gave the ball to Thompson, the senior who kicked a complete shutout in last week’s Eastern District Championship, with two men and the Quakers looking to make it a one-point game, and he got away with it. out with a routine strikeout and grounding.
Thompson hit another and put a zero in the seventh to close it.
“Coop ran out of gas a bit, the key was to keep them within two runs (in the inning),” Heatherington said. “We fought and JT came in and closed the door.”
After New Philly’s unearned run at the top of the first, Big Red responded right away in the bottom half with a Blackburn RBI groundout.
Late in the third, Steubenville (17-11) took the lead for the first time and didn’t look back.
After Big Red charged the bases with an out, another Blackburn RBI groundout made it 2-1, then a drive from Hakim Edwards in the outfield tackled a pair to make it a 4-1 lead in Steubenville.
Edwards added another RBI in the bottom of the fifth with a sack fly, with senior DH Kye Fleming adding an RBI to make it 6-1.
“At plate, we got the big hits at the right time,” Heatherington said. “Hakim had a big hit. Getting six runs on the board against two good pitchers is good.
While the Quakers did not leave, Thompson was able to close the door.
“These guys got here because they didn’t stop fighting, and I expected nothing less than us to keep fighting (Thursday),” the New Philly coach said, Tyler Weissel. “We ran out of time. Maybe if we play nine it might be different, but that’s not how it works. It will (stink) tomorrow without waking up and setting up a queue, it was a great group of kids and a fun ride.
“Big Red was exactly what I expected of them. They’re brave, they play the game the right way and they come in big in big situations.
Big Red will take on Bishop Hartley in today’s Region 7 Championship at Teays Valley in Ashville. The Hawks, who are 18-7 this season, beat Washington CH, 5-2, in the other semifinal on Thursday.