The Carrollton High School baseball coach couldn’t find much to fault for the better part of the night, as the fourth-ranked Trojans (8-3) got the best of the Class AAAAAA No. 8 Hawks (6-5) — a team that reached the Class AAAAA quarterfinals last season before dropping a three-game series to eventual state champion Parkview — to the tune of a 9-1 lead entering the seventh inning.
Things got a little dicey there, though, as Hillgrove scored four runs on three hits, three walks and a pair of errors before Zaideman had to summon senior hurler Christopher Hicks to get the final out with the bases juiced and the tying run at the plate.
“We played six strong innings. We got a little sloppy and got slow in our tempo [in the seventh]. When you do that, the defense gets on its heels. But Chris came in and pitched excellent. He came in and threw strikes. He just said, ‘Here it is. Come get it,’” Zaideman said.
Carrollton, which opens Region 5-AAAA play today when it hosts top-ranked and two-time defending state champion Columbus (6-3) at 5:30 p.m., got a strong effort from Tucker Reynolds on the hill Wednesday.
The junior right-hander worked four innings, allowing one run — none earned — on three hits with no walks and three punchouts to earn the victory.
“He threw the ball real well. He pounded the zone and let his defense work behind him. It’s that nine-versus-one mentality. So that’s what you’ve got to have when you’re on the mound,” Zaideman said.
Offensively, the Trojans came out swinging from the opening at-bat, starting the game off with a Sam Turner double and never looking back. Outside of two base-running miscues in the first two innings, Carrollton looked sharp offensively, breaking out with nine runs on 10 hits.
“We played a great game offensively. When you can bunt the ball, when you can execute the hit-and-run and you can do all the small things, it’s a tough animal to defend,” Zaideman said. “We had some big hits with the triples and the doubles, but then when you can come back and put down the drag [bunt], when you can do those things, you’re a tough team to beat.”
Carrollton got a single run in the first after Andrew Turner tripled and Will Hesterlee brought him home with an RBI single for the early 1-0 edge. After the Hawks tied the game at 1-all with an unearned run in the top of the third, the Trojans answered with a four-spot in the bottom of the frame.
Chip Murrah led off the inning with a walk, went to second on a groundout by Sam Turner and moved to third on a bunt single by Hicks. An RBI groundout by Andrew Turner made it a 2-1 game. After Hesterlee walked, the Trojan junior and Hicks pulled off a double steal, making it a 3-1 contest. Cain Sauls kept the rally going with an RBI single and Wil Garrett smashed an RBI triple to the right-field wall to bring home Sauls for the 5-1 advantage after three innings.
Carrollton added what proved to be huge insurance runs — two in the fifth and two in the sixth — for the 9-1 lead entering the seventh, where it was able to hang on for the emotional lift heading into today’s showdown with the Blue Devils.
“That’s why we wanted to play them before heading into Columbus. [Hillgrove] coach [Dave] Richardson is a highly-regarded coach across the state. He does a great job and runs a great program over there,” Zaideman said. “This was a big win for us, and we’ve had some big wins this year. We’re going to enjoy it [Wednesday] and [today] we’re 0-0.”
Hesterlee went 2-for-2 with a walk, double, was hit by a pitch, had three stolen bases and two runs scored, while Sam Turner (2-for-4, SB, 2B) and Hicks (2-for-4, SB, 2 runs, RBI) also had multiple-hit efforts for the Trojans. Channing Painton (3-for-4, run) led Hillgrove at the plate.
Following a formidable non-region schedule, the Trojans are now gearing up for the grind of 5-AAAA play, beginning with a big one today.
“Our guys are ready to go. I know they’re going to be geared up [Wednesday] night and [today] to get ready for it. Besides struggling that last inning, this was a great game to be leading into it. The tempo was good, we were loose, we were playing hard and playing fast. I mean, it was just a good way to lead you into Columbus,” Zaideman said.