ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
When pitcher Jerod Metcalf fielded a comebacker and fired to first base for the final out to secure Hillsboro’s 6-4 win over archrival Wichita Collegiate in the nightcap of their doubleheader Thursday, the Trojans celebrated redemption as much as a victory.
After a disappointing showing in their 12-1 opening-game loss, they needed some.
“I thought we played pretty flat that first game,” coach Phil Oelke said. “I don’t know if we were so pumped up for it that our nerves just never really settled down, or what the deal was.”
Beyond the usual rivalry between the two schools, the Spartans came to town with a 14-2 record, a state ranking and, lest anyone forget, were the defending Class 3A state champions who had defeated the Trojans in last year’s state semifinals.
What’s more, the Spartans were starting their ace pitcher, Bill Griffith, an NCAA Division I signee who had won his last 20 high school pitching decisions.
Maybe it was too much.
Griffith was on his game, but the Trojan pitchers were not. Dustin Jost, who had asked Oelke for the starting assignment because he wanted to beat the Spartan ace for the first time in his career, threw a strong first inning, but five consecutive walks in the second inning led to three Collegiate runs-and a long, long game for Hillsboro.
Those three runs were more than enough for Griffith, who struck out nine Trojans and gave up only four hits-including an impressive but meaningless home run to Kris Jones with one out in the seventh.
Meanwhile, the three Trojan hurlers-Jost, Layne Frick and Steven Chisholm-combined for 14 bases on balls. Throw in a few mental-lapse errors in the field that led to three more Spartan runs in the sixth, and the Trojans could easily have folded their tents for Game 2, also.
“We went out and said this was a game we just needed to forget about,” Oelke said about his between-games talk. “I said good teams will bounce back from this in the second game and perform-and they did. I was very, very proud of them.”
The Spartans scored first on a two-out single by Rob Ramseyer followed by a triple by Dan Dakhil off Metcalf.
But Jost doubled and Andy Brubacher singled to start the Trojans off in the bottom of the first. Jost then scored on an infield single by Hughbanks, and Brubacher crossed the plate later when Spartan catcher Bobby Bowman tried unsuccessfully to throw out Frick stealing second.
After Collegiate tied the game in the third inning on a leadoff home run by Zach Troilo, Hillsboro came right back with two runs in their half of the inning on walks to Brubacher and James Bina, an error in right field that enabled Brubacher to score, and a sacrifice fly by Frick that scored Bina.
Collegiate tied the game again during their next at bat on an error by Jost at short, a walk and then a two-out single by Troilo.
The Trojans scored what turned out to be the winning run in the bottom of the fourth. Jones led off with a walk, then stole second. After a base hit by Ronn Coates put runners at second and third, Jost brought Jones home with a sacrifice fly.
Jost scored an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth on an infield single, an error, an intentional pass to Bina and then an RBI single by Metcalf.
Metcalf (8-0) shut down the Spartans the rest of the way and finished with a six-hitter-thanks in no small part to some outstanding catches in the outfield by Brubacher, Jones and Coates. Metcalf walked only one hitter.
“I thought that was the difference between the two games-Jerod put the ball across the plate,” Oelke said. “Our outfield made some fabulous plays, though, that probably saved us.”
Hillsboro broke open a close game with 11 runs in the fifth inning to beat Clay Center 14-3 in the second game of their doubleheader last Tuesday in Clay Center.
The win completed the sweep for the Trojans, who won the opener, 5-4, on the strength of a pivotal two-run double by Andy Brubacher in the seventh inning.
The double gave the Trojans a 5-2 lead heading into the last half of the last inning. Trojan starter Layne Frick was cruising along on a six-hitter through six innings. The senior struck out the first batter, then loaded the bases on a Trojan error, a fielder’s choice, a single and a walk.
Two runs scored when Brubacher mishandled a hit to left field with two outs. Jerod Metcalf then came in to relieve Frick, and got the next hitter to ground out to short to end the game and pick up his third save of the season.
After Frick gave up a two-run homer in the first, Hillsboro took the lead in the fourth inning on consecutive singles by James Bina, Frick, Metcalf and Graham Ratzlaff for two runs. Kris Jones then drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly.
Frick gave up seven hits and three walks while striking out seven to pick up his first win of the season against one loss.
The second game was just as close as the first one through four innings.
After Hillsboro scored a run in their first at bat, Clay Center came back with two in their half of the inning, aided by a Trojan error.
Hillsboro came right back with two runs to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the second on a single by Frick, an error on a ground ball hit by Ratzlaff, and a single by Jones.
That set the stage for the big fifth inning, when the Trojans sent 16 batters to the plate, pounding out six hits and drawing six walks before it was over.
That was more than enough support for Metcalf (7-0), who gave up a run in the bottom of the fifth before ending the game on the 10-run rule. The junior finished with a six-hitter, striking out three, walking none and giving up no earned runs.
Coming-The Trojans were to have completed their regular-season schedule Tuesday with a doubleheader against Inman and will be preparing for regional action that starts next week at Southeast of Saline. The field includes two state-ranked teams, the host team and Lyons. Hoisington and Beloit will fill out the five-team field.
“I think our regional is probably the toughest in the state, in Class 3A at least,” Oelke said.
A sweep of Inman would have assured the Trojans of at least a third seed in the tournament.
“We didn’t want a fourth or fifth seed because then you end up having to play three games to make it to finals,” he said. “We obviously don’t have the pitchers for that at this point.”
The official seeds and schedule will be announced later this week.