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PREP BASEBALL: No. 1 Central Hardin beats No. 2 St. X in bottom of the seventh (05/05)

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By Chuck Jones

The Central Hardin Bruins hadn’t had many scoring chances Friday night, so when an opportunity presented itself in the bottom of the seventh inning, they decided to take a gamble.

Using the bat of junior pinch-hitter Isaac VanMeter and the speed of freshman Justin Rouse, the top-ranked Bruins made the move pay off as they cashed in with a 1-0 victory over the second-ranked Louisville St. Xavier Tigers in a battle fitting of the state’s two best teams.

“It’s pretty exciting,” VanMeter said. “The first thing I was thinking is we might guys on first and third, but the third baseman (Austin Clemons) made a good play. So when I came up I took my biggest hack on the first strike. Coach (Todd Thompson) gave me the hit and run and I was just trying to hit the ball on the ground and let the chips fall where they may.”

In the bottom of the seventh, senior Drew Harrington led off with a walk and junior Troy Riggs laid down a sacrifice bunt to move freshman courtesy runner Ben Heideman to second.

St. Xavier coach Andy Porta decided to take senior left-hander Ben Britt out in favor of junior right-hander Connor Underwood. Porta admitted it was a tough choice, but Britt’s pitch count was nearing 90. Underwood induced Rouse to hit a grounder to third and Clemons tagged out Heideman.

That set the stage for VanMeter, who hit a sharp grounder down the first-base line and out of the reach of a diving Marc Hellmueller. Rouse, who was running on the pitch, easily advanced to third, and when Thompson saw the ball was being bobbled in right field, he waved Rouse home. Rouse beat the throw to the plate, sliding head first on the left side for the dramatic victory.

“When I saw he (right fielder Andrew McCormick) didn’t attack the ball the way I thought he would, I decided to send him,” Thompson said. “At that point, we were all in. I knew we had to take a chance and it worked out tonight. They are a great team, and it was a great game.”

Rouse was surprised at first when Thompson sent him home.

“I saw him waving me to third and then he started waving me on,” Rouse said. “I didn’t know he had any trouble with the ball. I knew the right fielder had a great arm, so I knew I had to get down.”

The Bruins didn’t have many hits or base runners for that matter. They had two singles in the first, but a double play ended the threat. They had a base runner in the third and sixth innings, but weren’t able to do anything.

But like usual this season, Central Hardin’s pitching made up for the Bruins’ lack of offense. This was their 13th shutout of the season – tied for fourth best in state history — and they’ve given up four or more runs only twice.

Harrington, a hard-throwing left-hander, scattered six hits and two walks, working his way out of trouble on three occasions. The Tigers left two runners on in the third and sixth innings and the bases loaded in the seventh.

Harrington ended each threat with a strikeout, finishing with 11.

“I wasn’t 100 percent focused at the start of innings, so I had to get focused again,” Harrington said. “My defense bailed me out. Gabe (Hogan) threw a guy out trying to steal after a single and Justin made a diving play at third that stopped a ball and saved a run. I love those pressure situations. I feel like that’s when I’m at my best.”

Porta can attest to that. The Tigers had their opportunities but never could get to Harrington. With runners on first and third and two outs, Harrington struck out Clemons to end the inning. After a single by Clemons and a walk to senior Andrew Hubbs with one out in the sixth, Harrington struck out the next two hitters to thwart off the chance.

St. Xavier’s best chance came in the seventh. Junior Miles Lee led off with a double off the fence in center field. After a ground out to second moved Lee to third, Harrington struck out the next hitter. Senior Gunnar Wagoner was hit by a pitch and junior Sam Springer walked to load the bases, but Harrington came through with another strikeout to quash the Tiger rally.

“He dug down several times and found a way to get out of jams,” Porta said. “You have to give Drew credit. We were able to get guys on, I think we had second and third and first and third and the bases loaded. But he always made a pitch to get out of it. He did a phenomenal job.”

Britt, who allowed only three singles and three walks in 6 1/3 innings, was just as effective. He struck out eight.

“It was a great game between possible the top two teams in the state,” Porta said. “It was two phenomenal pitchers for two solid programs. That’s the best Ben’s thrown in two or three outings. He was on today. Unfortunately we came up on the short end.”

The loss snapped St. Xavier’s five-game winning streak. The Tigers had scored a combined 34 runs in their three previous wins over No. 7 Shelbyville Collins (mercy-rule), No. 25 Louisville Ballard and No. 4 Louisville Pleasure Ridge Park (mercy-rule). This was the first time this season they were shut out.

After losing to ranked teams Louisville Male and Lexington Catholic last weekend in the Louisville Invitational Tournament, Central Hardin bounced back with wins over Pleasure Ridge Park and St. Xavier. The Bruins are 5-3 against ranked teams this year.

“Those losses definitely motivated us and made us a little angry,” Harrington said. “The season is a marathon and you’re going to have ups and downs. Last weekend was one of those downs, but now we’re back up. Hopefully we keep it that way.”

CENTRAL HARDIN1, LOUISVILLE St. XAVIER 0

                                              R  H  E

St. Xavier          000   000    0    0  6  2

Central Hardin    000   000    1    1  3  0

Ben Britt, Connon Underwood and Josh Osborne. Drew Harrington and Gabe Hogan. WP: Harrington (7-0). LP: Britt (5-1). 2B: Miles Lee (X).

UP NEXT: Central Hardin hosts Campbellsville at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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