By Chris Chaney
The road upstate starts locally for four Clermont County high schools that have reached their respective sectional finals. Milford, Clermont Northeastern, New Richmond and Goshen are all still alive in the state tournament and will vie for a sectional title on Thursday, May 23.
Milford, the lone Division I school still standing, finds itself with the best matchup according to seed as they, the No. 4 seed, take on No. 19 seed Turpin at Lakota East. Also in the Eagles favor is the team’s familiarity with the Spartans.
“I’m expecting a different team than when we played them the first time,” Milford head coach Tom Kilgore said. “They were our first series of this year, so we haven’t played them for five weeks. They’ve got a couple different guys in their lineup than when we played them the previous time, too. I’m sure we’ll see some similarities, but also some differences. I’m expecting to see a team that’s grown over the past five weeks.”
Milford faced their fellow Eastern Cincinnati Conference foe on April 3 and 5, beating the Spartans both times by a combined 13-6.
To get to the sectional final, the Eagles only had to beat one team by virtue of their draw, in which they received a bye into the second round. Milford received a solid pitching performance from senior ace Zach Cook in the second round game and plan to run out Cook again against Turpin.
Kilgore said a big factor for his team during the weeklong layoff between games was to keep them in their typical groove. Still with three regular season games on their schedule, the Eagles played fellow sectional finalist New Richmond on Tuesday, May 21. Kilgore hoped the reps his everyday eight received from playing good competition will help them in their sectional final game.
Those very same Lions will be seeking to avenge a sectional final loss from a year ago and again will have to go through a fellow Southern Buckeye Conference opponent to do so.
Last year, New Richmond fell to Clermont Northeastern in the Division II sectional final, but are poised this season to play up to their No. 1 seed. The Lions had to get through two games to reach their final; first Wilmington on May 14 and then a tough McNicholas team on May 16.
McNick jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the Lions early in the game, but stellar pitching from Levi Simpson and timely hitting put the Lions back in the game. After settling in after the first few frames, Lions batters touched up the McNicholas pitching staff for 12 hits, a good portion of which came in the four-run fifth inning that put the Lions well ahead.
New Richmond’s 13th win in a row drew Goshen in the sectional final round, a team that they split the season series with.
The Warriors come into Thursday’s matchup playing solid ball as well, as most every team must do to be alive at this point in the season.
“We’re playing really well and in the sectional final for the first time in seven years,” Goshen head coach Mark Reed said. “We’re playing team baseball and doing the little things right. We’re playing good defense, getting unbelievable pitching and right now we’re finding ways to win and that’s all that matters in the state tournament.”
Similar to their opponent on Thursday, Goshen has won two games to advance to the sectional final that will take place at Milford on Thursday. First, the Warriors got by a pesky Taft team, 5-4 and then took down conference rival Norwood for the third time this season.
Playing New Richmond for the third time this season, Reed said that they need to do one of two things well to compete with the sectional’s top seed.
“We know that they are a terrific hitting team,” he said. “All the way through the lineup they have guys who can hit extremely well, so we realize if we want to compete with them we have to shut them down with pitching or just try to hit with them.”
Reed would prefer to do the former, as he gives the ball to SBC-National Player of the Year, Alex Edwards.
“(Edwards) has been throwing shutouts left and right,” Reed said. “We’re hoping he can have some success and shut them down on Thursday.”
Clermont Northeastern, the final team playing for the sectional title, is the lone team among the quartet to be defending sectional champions.
“The kids are very excited,” head coach Mike Kirk said, echoing the comments of Coach Reed of Goshen. “We’re pitching very well right now and doing the little things you need to do to win the games; we’re playing defense and getting timely hits and this time of year that’s big.”
With a first-round bye, the Rockets had only one game to navigate to get to the sectional final, beating Taylor on Thursday, May 16, 8-0.
“We got six runs in the first inning,” Kirk said. “A couple hits blew the inning wide open. We had some other chances later in the game, but we set back and let the game play itself out.”
The Rockets were afforded that luxury thanks to a combined no-hitter from Nick Tipton and Joey Cockerham. Tipton will take the mound against Wyoming on Thursday at Lebanon in the Rockets quest to win back-to-back sectional titles.
“I’ve seen them once,” Kirk said of their opponent. “They have three really good arms and they’re not going to make mistakes, they’re not going to kick the ball around. They’re going to take really good at-bats and hustle on the bases.”
All games will be played at 5 p.m. Thursday. For complete brackets, log on to swdab.org.