Every team’s goal is to be playing its best ball at the end of the season. It didn’t quite work out that way for Hillsboro at last week’s Class 3A regional baseball tournament at Memorial Field.
The Trojans, who entered as the No. 3 seed with a 9-9 record, nearly let a first-round victory slip away against an Ellsworth squad that had won only one game all season. In the semifinals, they were shut out by Marion until the final inning in an 8-1 defeat (see story Page 1B).
“Inconsistencies at the plate was a factor as much as anything,” coach Doug Dick said about his team’s tournament performance. “We have guys who have been hitting the ball pretty good all year, but we weren’t consistent.”
The Trojans started slowly against Ellsworth, but built a 6-0 lead through four innings after singles by Josh Davidson, Jordan Faul, Kale Arnold and David Dick, plus doubles by Josh Funk and Lucas Sinclair, led to four runs.
But the tide began to turn in the top of the fifth when the Bearcats touched Trojan starter Jordan Faul for two error-aided runs.
When Ellsworth started the sixth inning with two singles on either side of a double, Sinclair relieved Faul on the mound and retired the next three batters. By then the score was 7-4.
Ellsworth went on to tie the game in the top of the seventh, scoring three more runs on only two base hits and a hit batter.
The Trojans, with momentum against them, pulled out the victory without the benefit of a base hit. Funk reached base on an error, Faul was hit by a pitch and Sinclair was walked intentionally to load the bases. When a 3-1 pitch got past the catcher, Funk scored the winning run.
Dick said the lack of offense was pivotal in the team’s loss to Marion, which ended the Trojans’ season with a 10-10 record.
“Grif (Case, Marion starter) is a good pitcher—he’s not overpowering, but he hits spots,” Dick said. “He’s deceptively good. But the thing is, we’ve seen pitchers just as good as him. We just didn’t put rallies together.”
Dick said the decision to start freshman left-hander Dylan Nelson against the No. 2 seed was an attempt to throw the Warriors a curve.
“Maybe pitching Dylan, in hindsight, wasn’t the way to go,” he said. “But we (coaches) had talked it over and asked, what’s our best strategy against Marion? We decided to throw somebody they hadn’t seen—and they had struggled a little bit against lefties this year. We figured that might help us.
“Kale (Arnold, Hillsboro’s senior ace) maybe could have kept us a little closer, but when you score only one run you’re not going to win many games.”
Dick said his team wasn’t as focused at it had been through much of the season.
“We were flat for the whole regional,” he said. “I didn’t think we had a lot of excitement.
“It’s hard to read some kids,” he added. “Everybody on the team has to be productive in one way or another, whether you’re on the bench or whether you fill in for a runner, or whatever you do.
“You want to finish the season on a good note—at least better than what we did.”
Dick said considering the challenge of a small roster and the loss of a couple of potential contributors to injury, the season had its share of highlights, particularly for his returning veterans.
“We had a lot of guys with good numbers—that’s why we got 10 wins even though we’re in a tough league,” he said.
Davidson was in his first season on the team, but Dick’s three other seniors had their best year at the plate.
Unruh finished with a .484 batting average, with 25 runs batted in and a slugging percentage of .688—all team highs. He struck out only seven times all season.
Meanwhile, Arnold hit .394 with 18 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .451 and Sinclair .339 with 17 RBIs and a .452 slugging percentage.
“I’m pleased with the seniors and what they did through the years,” Dick said. “Obviously, when you’re a senior you want to go out with your best stats.
“Overall, I’m pleased with the leadership we had from the seniors,” he added. “They were all trying to be leaders when they needed to be.”