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PREP BASEBALL: Central moves past Bethlehem (5/29)

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By Chuck Jones

The 5th Region Baseball Tournament semifinal between Central Hardin and Bethlehem started off with a bang Tuesday evening at James R. Aldridge Field.

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Then came an explosion followed by immense heat.

In the end, the Bruins were back in a familiar position – the region championship game. They rallied from an early 2-1 deficit, erupting for six runs in the fifth highlighted by senior Zach Ditto’s three-run homer to knock off Bethlehem, 8-4 and reach their seventh consecutive title game.

“I can’t describe it at all,” Ditto said. “This is what we wanted and we are pumped to be here. We’re ready to go.”

Central Hardin (31-5) is shooting for its fourth consecutive region title. The Bruins meet Nelson County (21-18) at 6:30 tonight in the championship game. The Cardinals blanked North Hardin, 7-0 in the nightcap.

This one didn’t come easy or without its share of fireworks.

Central Hardin senior Troy Squires was thrown out of the game in the top of the first when the umpire deemed he lowered his shoulder on the catcher. Squires was trying to score from second on Ditto’s single.

Squires has to sit out two games, according to an email from KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett.

“Troy’s our leader and he does a lot for our team,” Central Hardin junior Josh Krupinski said. “We wanted to let him know we have his back. We want him to play another game.”

The Bruins needed a spark without Squires, and they found it in senior Alex Crowder. When he drew a walk in the fourth, Crowder turned and screamed, “Let’s go.”

“We needed it,” Ditto said.

After tying it at 2 in the fourth, Central Hardin exploded in the fifth. Freshman Ben Heideman, who took Squires’ spot in the lineup, reached on an error and then freshman Justin Rouse walked. Ditto blasted a three-run bomb over the green monster in left field.

“I was just looking for my pitch,” Ditto said. “I was just looking for something I could drive. I knew I got it.”

The Bruins weren’t done. Senior Drew Harrington was hit by a pitch and Crowder walked. Junior Troy Riggs, who went 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs, lined a single to center to bring in Harrington and an error allowed Crowder to score. Junior Bart Herrin added an RBI single as Central Hardin built an 8-2 lead.

“It was huge because that turned everything around,” Crowder said. “I think the inning before was a wake-up call for everyone. It seemed like everyone was down after the play at the plate (in the first inning). Someone needed to do something to get us going.”

After Central Hardin’s outburst in the fifth, Bethlehem pushed across two runs in the sixth. Junior John Riney had a run-scoring single and another run came in on junior Thomas Osborne’s grounder.

But in the seventh, Central Hardin turned it over to Harrington, who came in throwing heat and a nasty breaking pitch. He struck out the side on 12 pitches to get the Bruins to another title game.

“I’m very proud of the team,” Central Hardin coach Todd Thompson said. “I kept hearing in the dugout, ‘Let’s do it for Squires.’ They stepped up when we needed it. This was a total team effort. Everyone contributed to this and that’s what you want to see.”

Krupinski (11-0) earned the win, allowing six hits, two walks and four runs – two earned – in six innings. He struck out three.

“I felt good,” Krupinski said. “They are a solid hitting team, but I felt like I had everything working and was changing up speeds. That’s what I had to do.”

Krupinski praised Rouse and Heideman. Rouse took over at shortstop for Squires and Heideman went to third for Rouse. The two combined to play flawless defense.

“Justin stepped up big,” Krupinski said. “Shortstop is an important position on the field, but he did a great job. And Ben did a good job at third. They did a terrific job.”

The Bruins took a 1-0 lead behind sophomore Britton Elmore’s bat. With one out, Riggs reached on an error and moved to second and third on passed balls. Elmore ripped a double off the base of the right-field wall to drive in Riggs.

Bethlehem (29-11) came back in the third inning to take a 2-1 lead. Junior Nolan Johnson singled to center to start the inning and moved to second on Osborne’s sacrifice bunt. Sophomore Jake Yates reached on an error and then junior Zach Smith had an RBI single to right. Junior Conner Ballard followed with a sacrifice fly to center to score Yates.

Central Hardin answered quickly, scoring in the top half of the fourth. With one out, Crowder walked and advanced to third on an errant pick off. Riggs delivered a sharply hit single past the drawn in infield to drive in Crowder.

“Alex plays with a lot of passion,” Thompson said. “He’s a gamer. He gave us a spark.”

CENTRAL HARDIN 8, BETHLEHEM 4

                                              R  H  E

Central Hardin    010   160    0    8  9  2

Bethlehem         002   002    0    4  6  4

Josh Krupinski, Drew Harrington (7) and Gabe Hogan. Conner Ballard, Thomas Osborne (5) and Blake Brangers. WP: Krupinski (11-0). LP: Ballard. 2B: Britton Elmore (CH), Blake Brangers (B). HR: Zach Ditto (CH). SB: Ben Heideman (CH).

Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or cjones@thenewsenterprise.com.