By Chris Chaney
The higher you climb, the thinner the air becomes.
Three Clermont County baseball teams found out the hard way how difficult it is to survive as the summit of postseason baseball approaches. Milford, New Richmond and Clermont Northeastern all fell in their respective district championship games on Saturday, May 25.
In Division I, the Milford Eagles dropped their district final game to the top team in the state of Ohio, Mason. Unlucky that one of the best teams in the country sets only a few miles down I-275, the Eagles did not play their game at Centerville High School in awe or under a cloud of intimidation. Quite the contrary, in fact.
“It was a good quality baseball game,” Milford head coach Tom Kilgore said. “Their pitcher (TJ) Zeuch was pretty dominant from the get-go — good velocity, good control — and we were going to have a hard time scratching more than one or two runs against him so the goal was to limit them as much as possible as well as when we have an opportunity to get a run across that we do it.”
Kilgore pointed to the third inning as a turning point for his team. A few loose plays defensively gave the Comets some extra outs and Mason took advantage of them. Had they stayed air tight, Kilgore believes that the Eagles would have found themselves in a 1-1 game and had a better opportunity to spring the upset.
As it ended up, Zeuch kept the Eagles bats in check, only giving up three hits while striking out 11 batters.
Still, even with their season over, Kilgore contends that the season was a success.
“I still think to a certain degree this group overachieved a little bit,” the coach said. “To win 21 games, win the conference and get to the district championship, those are all lofty goals for us every year.
“In reflecting back, I think we achieved all of our goals and all in all, had a pretty successful season.
The Eagles were senior-laden this year and will be losing 11 players to graduation. However, given the program’s decent core of young talent and strong JV and freshman teams, Kilgore believes the Eagles are capable of another successful season in 2014.
“While it’s a challenge to replace 11 seniors, I think we still return a core of players as well as program-wise, we usually have two pretty successful teams below,” Kilgore said. “I think as a program, that’s something you always look forward to — that opportunity for young players to come up and have an immediate impact.”
In Division II, the Clermont contingent of New Richmond and Clermont Northeastern also saw their seasons come to an end at the hands of Springfield Shawnee and Franklin, respectively.
The Lions fell in especially dramatic fashion, pushing the game into extra innings before Shawnee scored a run in the eighth inning to put the Lions to bed.
New Richmond finished the season with a 23-6 overall record and an 8-2 mark in the Southern Buckeye Conference American Division, good enough for a league co-championship.
Not unlike Milford, the Lions will lose a good chunk of their everyday eight to graduation, but have a solid foundation established by head coach Brian Benzinger.
As for Clermont Northeastern, the Rockets are still in search of their first district baseball title in school history. CNE fell to Franklin 4-1 on Saturday ahead of the New Richmond game at Mason High School.
The Rockets, third-place finishers in the SBC’s National Division, ended the year 18-10-1 overall and 6-4 in conference. Losing five seniors to graduation, head coach Mike Kirk has young talent in place that he hopes will bring the Rockets back on the precipice of school history once again next season.