HOWARD — An early deficit isn’t all that much to worry about for the East Knox baseball team.
The Bulldogs are confident their offense will pick them up when the pitching or defense isn’t having its best day. Thursday was one of those days.
Utica led 3-0 early, but the Bulldogs rallied to pull out a 10-5 victory in the Division III Sectional finals at East Knox.
“I thought, we’re a good hitting team. Three runs is not too much,” said East Knox pitcher Nate Friel, who had given up three runs in the second inning. “If they scored much more, it wouldn’t be good, so I tried not to give them any more.”
Utica had taken the 3-0 lead on five singles in the second inning. Josh Dillon and Hunter Billman started it off with back-to-back singles. Then, Collin McCullough drove home Dillon with another single and Logan Brokaw knocked in Billman with one of his own. Garrett Meyers followed with an RBI single and things were looking mighty rosy for the Redskins.
But, in a preview of the rest of the game, things unraveled for the Redskins defensively in the bottom half of the second. A short pop fly was misjudged, giving East Knox a little life. After a double from Kasson Krownapple, Utica got two straight outs and would have been out of the inning. But, the Bulldogs were still batting. Caleb Gallwitz and Weston Melick both walked before Cody Leach flared a popup down the left field line that fell fair by inches and scored three runs to give the Bulldogs the lead.
‘We got a break when we were three runs down. We had a kid who’s been hitting the ball hard, bloop one in for three runs. That really changed the complexion of the game,” said East Knox coach Randy Baugher. “Fortunately, we got some luck on our side tonight.”
“That led to our demise, a backbreaker. We’re up three and drop a routine pop up. Then, everything broke loose,” said Utica coach Bren Henderson. “You’ve got to keep them (EK) off balance and we did a good job early. But, a couple of errors compounded things and they got their hitters loose.”
A walk and another Utica error gave EK another run in the third and two errors in the fifth helped EK with a five-run fifth. The Bulldogs took advantage of those errors in a big way as Gallwitz smacked in inside-the-park home run that scored two.
“He’s (Gallwitz) a beast. I sometimes send him home just so everyone can watch him run,” Baugher said with a laugh.
Utica had a couple of opportunities offensively, but weren’t able to get the key hit they needed until the seventh inning. The Redskins left five runners in scoring position before Lincoln Valentine’s single scored Dillon in the seventh. Billman, who had doubled, scored on a double play by the Bulldogs.
The opportunistic Bulldogs got just six hits on the night to score their 10 runs. Leach led the team with a double, single and three RBI. Gallwitz drove in two with his homer, and Kasson Krownapple added a double. Gage Steinmetz and Peyton Lester both singled.
Friel pitched the first five innings for EK, allowing eight hits, one walk and hitting two batters. He also struck out three. Kal Gallwitz finished up, fanning two and giving up three hits.
“I’m really proud of Nate (Friel). He might not have had his best stuff, but he dug in and went after them,” Baugher said.
“It definitely wasn’t my best outing. I just tried to keep everybody in check and give us the best opportunity to win the game,” Friel said.
McCullough led the Redskins with two singles, a triple and two RBI. Billman added a single and a double, while Meyers and Dillon both had two singles. Valentine and Brokaw both singled.
Mack Marston started on the hill for Utica, allowing four hits and three walks in four-plus innings. He also struck out three. Hunter Fischer and Dillon both saw time on the hill in the final two innings.
East Knox advances to district play where it will take on Liberty Union on Monday at 5 p.m. The site is yet to be determined.
“We’ve scouted them, they are really solid,” Baugher said. “They’ve got a freshman who throws 90. We’ll have to be on our game.”