ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
After a season of ups and downs, the Hillsboro baseball team lived up to its state-tournament ambitions with a near-perfect 10-0 domination of Yates Center in the regional championship game Wednesday evening at Marion.
The five-inning, run-rule victory earned a senior-laden Trojan squad a much anticipated berth in the Class 3A tournament next weekend in Manhattan.
“This was probably the most complete game of baseball, all around, that I think we’ve ever played in my five years (as coach),” Phil Oelke said afterward.
Ace pitcher Jerod Metcalf (6-4), who has endured his share of triumphs and disappointments this season, was brilliant on the mound for Hillsboro, finishing with a two-hitter while striking out six and walking only one.
At the plate, designated-hitter Graham Ratzlaff lived up to his “Big Dog” nickname with a pair of RBI hits in three official at bats, driving in the first run of the game with a double, and then ending the game in the fifth with a bases-loaded single to right-center that drove in the last two.
But this was a game where every Trojan did the job he needed to do, from start to finish. As a team, Hillsboro made no errors in the field, executed perfectly a couple of critical bunts, and ran the bases smartly and efficiently.
Metcalf gave up the Wildcats’ two hits in the opening inning. Ty Heffern grounded a one-out single up the middle, but was forced out at second on a ball hit by Jerod Boone.
Alan Ibbetson followed with a single to left, but Metcalf struck out Chance Knight to end the inning.
Only one other Wildcat reached base the rest of the game, and that came when Metcalf walked Kyle Owens with one out in the third inning. But Owens was forced out at second base by Heffern, and Metcalf struck out Boone to snuff out any hope of a Wildcat uprising.
“Metcalf pitched unbelievably well,” Oelke said, noting the six innings the right-hander had thrown the night before against Bluestem, and the fact that the senior was battling a possible ear infection.
“He just threw lights out,” Oelke said. “You can tell when he’s on because he throws ground balls versus when he’s hanging stuff and giving up a lot of fly balls.”
While Metcalf sailed along smoothly, the Trojans roughed up Yates Center starter Ibbetson with two runs in the first inning and two more in the second.
With one out in the first, Shawn Hughbanks walked, but was forced at second on a grounder by James Bina.
Ratzlaff followed with his double, a shot to center, to score Bina. Ratzlaff then scored on a single by Metcalf.
In the second inning, Andy Brubacher led off with a walk. Then Ben Walker-who returned to the Trojan lineup after missing a couple of games with a hand injury-and Steven Chisholm beat out a pair of “sacrifice” bunts in consecutive at-bats to load the bases.
Hughbanks stroked a single to center to drive in Brubacher and Walker for a 4-0 Hillsboro lead.
Wildcat coach Wes Smith yanked Ibbetson at that point and put in Heffern, who got the final two outs of the inning without further damage.
The Trojans took a good inning and a half to get used to the left-handed Heffern, but scored their fifth run of the game in the fourth inning on a lead-off single by Chisholm, who then stole second.
Two outs later, Chisholm scored when Bina singled to center.
That set the stage for the five-run fifth inning that buried the Wildcats.
With one out, Kris Jones doubled, Brubacher singled and Ben Walker walked to load the bases. Chisholm was then hit by a pitch to bring Jones home, and Dustin Jost followed with a long single to score Brubacher and Walker to bump the score to 8-0.
Hughbanks then reached first on an infield single to load the bases. After Bina was called out on strikes, Ratzlaff followed with his game-ending blow to right center.
“Graham is just swinging the stick right now,” Oelke said of the senior. “His hits were all up the middle. He’s primarily been a pull hitter this year. But gosh, he’s driving the ball hard.”
The Trojans finished with 11 hits in 42/3 innings. Hughbanks chipped in with three hits in four at-bats and two RBIs. Chisholm had two hits in two official at bats and scored three times.
The Trojans will enter state tournament play with an official record of 17-6, picking up a “bye” victory at regionals in addition to winning two games won on the field.
HHS 10, Bluestem 4
Hillsboro earned a place in the championship game with a 10-4 come-from-behind win over Bluestem of Leon in Tuesday’s semifinal game.
After two scoreless innings to start the game, the Lions jumped on Hillsboro starter Jerod Metcalf for five hits and three runs in the top of the third inning.
But the Bluestem burst seemed to sound a wake-up call for the Trojans, who came right back with four runs in the bottom of the inning to take the lead for good.
But the Trojans got some help.
With one out, Dustin Jost reached on a Lion error and Andy Brubacher followed with a single, and Shawn Hughbanks was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Bluestem starter Mike Marlnee then walked five of the next six hitters, and Metcalf lofted a sacrifice fly in between to account for the four Trojan runs.
Hillsboro broke the game open in the fifth with five more runs. This time the Trojans got three walks from Bluestem, but not before Bina had homered to lead off the inning and Ratzlaff followed with triple off the very top of the outfield wall.
Kris Jones and Hughbanks each chipped in RBI singles on the way to a 9-3 Hillsboro lead by the time the inning finally was over.
After Bluestem picked up a fourth run in the top of the sixth inning with the help of a Trojan error, Ratzlaff rounded out the scoring with a home run to lead off the bottom of the inning.
Hillsboro coach Phil Oelke blamed his team’s sluggish start on recent rains that kept his team off the field for a couple of days.
“We came out just a little bit flat, but we responded well,” he said.
Metcalf (5-4) scattered 11 hits over his six innings, but also struck out 11 Lions without walking anyone.
“Metcalf struggled a little bit keeping his pitches down,” Oelke said. But he also praised the hitting ability of the Lions.
“Give them credit, they hit the ball well-a lot better than they did in the earlier game (against Marion),” he said.
Steven Chisholm came in for Metcalf in the seventh, and pitched a three-up, three-down inning.
“Chisholm looked real good on the mound,” Oelke said. “He struggled with that first batter, but I made just one adjustment over here and he was lights out from then on.”
At the plate, the Trojans finished with nine hits and 10 walks.
Ratzlaff went 2-for-3, scoring twice and driving in two runs. The home run was his sixth of the year, while Bina’s was his twelfth.
Metcalf was officially 2-for-2 at the plate with one RBI and one run scored.