At around 10:23 p.m. Monday night sounds of excitement began to emerge from the Hillsboro Indians’ dugout at Rannow Field, located on the campus of Athens High School, as Ryan Scott rounded third base and headed for home. Scott dove towards home plate as the ball bounced in the dirt in front the plate. A sliver of silence seemed to hold in the air before the umpire signaled safe and players erupted from the dugout to greet Scott and Ethan Watson, who recorded the game winning RBI single.
Hillsboro battled the Gallia Academy Blue Devils for eight innings to emerge with a 1-0 victory and the right to advance to the Southeast District Final against Circleville on Wednesday on the campus of Ohio University.
Hillsboro head coach Matt Garman talked about the poise of his team in close games following the win.
“We have been here before. We have been in games that were tight where we had opportunities and didn’t take advantage of it. Because of that experience, these guys never lose touch with what we are trying to get accomplished. These guys know how to handle those pressure situations. I just got done telling the guys, ‘that’s why we play a tough schedule and our record doesn’t look as good as some of the teams we are facing right now.’ But, we feel like we are every bit as good because we put ourselves in tough spots against really good teams and I think that is paying dividends for us right now. When we get in tough spots these guys lock down and they have a lot of grit,” Garman told The Times-Gazette.
Starting pitchers Luke Magulac, Hillsboro, and Josh Farrow, Gallia Academy, treated the fans in attendance for both teams to a pitcher’s duel as they combined to strike out 20 batters in the game. Farrow pitched all eight innings for the Blue Devils and held the Indians in check until the very end.
Magulac pitched six full innings and faced three batters in the top of the seventh inning. In the seventh Magulac gave up a base hit, a walk and hit Gallia Academy’s Morgan Stanley to load the bases. Ethan Humphries relieved Magulac with the bases loaded and no outs but calmly went about his business as he forced the next two batters into fielder’s choice ground balls.
The first was gobbled up by Hayden Haines at shortstop and quickly fired to home plate for the force out. The second was hit to first baseman Kelton Anderson who initially bobbled the ball before firing to home in time to cut down the lead runner. Humphries got the final batter of the inning to pop out to Anderson at first base to end the threat and strand three Blue Devil base runners.
Garman was impressed with the pitching from both teams in the game and described it as a pitcher’s duel.
“It was a pitcher’s duel. You have to tip your cap to Farrow, we have been swinging the bat really well lately and he shut us down for seven innings. You have to tip your cap to that young man because he is a great pitcher. On the other side of things, Luke Magulac, what can you say about him? He came out and absolutely stood toe to toe with that guy as a sophomore on the mound in a really big game and he delivered. Then Ethan Humphries comes in, in a bases loaded jam with nobody out and gets two groundballs and a popup to get out of the inning with no damage,” Garman said.
Hillsboro appeared to find their groove at the plate in the sixth inning when Payton Bell singled, Anderson reached base on an error by the Gallia Academy right fielder and Watson drew a walk to load the bases with one out. However, Jared Thompson struck out and Magulac hit into an inning ending fielder’s choice to end the threat to the Blue Devils.
The bottom of the eighth inning started with Scott earning a walk and then advancing to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Bell. The Blue Devils elected to intentionally walk Anderson to put runners on first and second. Watson was next to the plate and singled to center field for the game winning RBI.
Garman took a few seconds to look ahead to Wednesday’s game against Circleville before returning to celebrate with his players.
“We got another good baseball team, we know they can hit. We set here and watched them hit it to all fields so, we will have to come ready to play and if we do that we like our chances,” said Garman.
Reach Ryan Applegate at 937-402-2572, or on Twitter @RCApplegate89.