July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Hornets never say die

Richard Doyle

The Gazette

MACEDONIA — What was touted Friday as a matchup of solid pitching quickly became a slugfest.

In the end, the fifth-seeded Highland baseball team needed one extra inning to take down Suburban League champion and No. 4 seed Nordonia 12-4 in a Hudson Division I Sectional final.

The Hornets (21-8) advance to face third-seeded Hudson, which rallied from a 3-0 hole to take down Stow, in Thursday district semifinals at The Ballpark at Hudson.

“The team was really up. Everyone kept cheering and nobody gave up,” beaming Highland designated hitter Clay Condon said. “We knew we could fight back. Never give up. Never say die.”

The Hornets blew a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh and entered the eighth with a chip on their shoulders. Despite a raucous Nordonia bench, Highland refocused and the bottom of the order got things going.

Five-hole hitter Condon (4-for-5, 2 RBIs, 4 runs) led off with a single into center field, which was followed by an Alex Harris single. After Grant Loeding reached on a fielder’s choice, Ryan Hepner (1-for-4, 4 RBIs) came up big and drove in Condon on a fielder’s choice RBI.

“The spark has been the bottom of the lineup the last couple games,” Hornets coach Jay Grissom said. “In fact, I think those guys were the spark all day. The way those guys have accepted doing some things and playing small ball, it’s been really great.”

Condon proved to be the winning run, but the onslaught was far from over. Highland scored seven more runs with two outs. Nine players reached base as the Hornets tallied seven hits, two walks and a hit batter.

Highland starter Kenny Sanford (6-3, 3.26 ERA) pitched a gem through six innings. Counterpart Tyler Alders (4-1, 1.88) matched him pitch for pitch until Sanford’s the last inning proved to be the toughest.

In the bottom of the seventh, Sanford was one out from a complete game. Four straight singles later, the Knights tied the game on a Billy Smith RBI base knock that brought in Scott Klein.

Luckily for Highland, reliever Dylan McVay stopped the threat.

“In that situation, the way (Sanford) had thrown, that was his game. He deserved it,” Grissom said. “He’s a senior, he’s earned it and I’ll give it to him again if it happens next week.”

Highland used the bottom of its lineup to score early, as third baseman Hepner and left fielder Zach Garcia each brought in a run in the second. Two innings later, Nordonia knotted the score on a two-run single by Smith.

The game remained tight until the sixth inning, when the Hornets’ Luke Raley crushed a ball into right field that was misplayed and eventually ended up at the wall. Condon followed with a clutch single that scored Raley, and Condon later scored on a groundball by Hepner.

“Clay Condon came up big for us,” Grissom said. “He doesn’t get cheated up at the plate. He’ll take his swings. I was just so proud of him tonight.”

That lead didn’t last long, but Highland’s never-say-die attitude won out.

Contact Richard Doyle at sports@medina-gazette.com.

Highland 12, Nordonia 4

Hudson Division I Sectional Final

HIGHLAND                           020 002 08 — 12 17 1

NORDONIA                           000 200 20 —  4 11 1

WP — Dylan McVay (1-0) 1⅓ innings, 0 runs, 0 walks, strikeout. LP — Brandon Talion (3-2)  ⅔ inning, 8 runs, 8 earned, 5 hits, walk, hit by pitch, 0 strikeouts. Highland (21-8) — Clay Condon, 4 singles, 2 RBIs, 4 runs; Grant Loeding 3 singles, 2 RBIs; Luke Raley 2 triples, 2 runs; Alex Harris 2 singles; Ryan Miller 2 singles; Ryan Hepner single, 4 RBIs. Nordonia (21-8) — Scott Klein 3 singles, 2 runs; Tyler Alders, double, single; Billy Smith 3 singles, 3 RBIs.