By Chris Chaney
Two postseason runs by local league champions were cut short on Saturday, May 24 as both New Richmond and Milford saw their seasons come to a close in their respective district championships.
Paralleling one another throughout the postseason, both the Lions and Eagles had to win rubber matches against conference rivals in the sectional final, only to fall a few days later in district tournament action.
The Southern Buckeye Conference American Division champion Lions rolled through their Division II sectional relatively untested winning their first two games by a combined 13-2.
That stellar play earned them a third matchup with league runners-up Goshen on Thursday, May 22 at Anderson. The two teams had split their regular season meetings with each squad picking up hard-fought 1-0 wins. Saturday’s closely contested rubber match was no different.
“It was tough; Goshen’s a really good team,” New Richmond head coach Brian Benzinger said. “What makes it especially tough with Goshen was that they have two really good pitchers. Isaac Hart pitched against us on Thursday and we knew it was going to be a low-scoring game.”
The Lions countered senior right-hander Chris Lawrence and he pitched a gem, maintaining a complete-game shutout even as the Warriors continued to press as their season neared its end.
“We knew Lawrence was going to keep us in the game,” Benzinger said. “He’s done that for two years and we had confidence that he would do it again. Sure enough, he went out there and pitched a shutout for us.
“We were able to scrape across a couple runs and get the win.”
The 2-0 victory advanced the Lions to their second consecutive sectional title and a date with Bellefontaine on Saturday, May 24.
As for the Eagles, their rubber match came against Eastern Cincinnati Conference co-champions, the Anderson Redskins.
Like New Richmond and Goshen, Milford and Anderson had split a season series of closely contested games, each of which needed extra innings to determine a victor. But again, like New Richmond, Milford found a way to win with the season on the line.
The Eagles got out to an early lead in the first inning by way of small ball and built on it over the next three to lead 4-0. After a two-run double in the top of the fourth cut Milford’s lead in half, coach Tom Kilgore pulled starting pitcher Justin Arnold in favor of senior Tristan Lana.
Lana affirmed the pitching change by ending the Anderson threat and sitting down the Redskins in order in each of the next three innings to cement the 6-2 victory and sectional title.
With both teams on the field early Saturday, it was only poetic that both teams played to low-run ties late into their respective games.
For New Richmond, a 2-0 lead through the first five innings was erased when Bellefontaine tied the game up in their half of the inning, making the match up a nail-biter to the end.
Likewise for Milford and Mason, the two teams played with a 1-1 score line through much of the early afternoon at Western Hills High School and into the final inning of the game.
The Lions saw their deadlock end just an inning after it was tied up, giving up two runs in the sixth inning when two Chieftain batters were put on base via walks and a double plated both.
Unable to answer in the bottom of the sixth or seventh, New Richmond saw their season end in a 4-2 loss.
For Milford, the 1-1 tie was broken in the top of the seventh inning when a Comet batsman reached base on a single and another on a hit-by-pitch. Mason expertly moved the runners over into scoring position via bunt and the eventual winning run crossed the plate when a passed ball squirted away from senior catcher Hunter Losekamp.
The Comets won 2-1.
Both teams finished the season with impressive records; New Richmond was 25-6 and Milford was 21-8. The Eagles and Lions will lose a handful of seniors to graduation, but the majority of both teams will be back in their respective red and white next year to try and build on what they accomplished this season.