After seeing three straight seasons end in the District championship game, the Versailles Tigers put together a solid effort at the plate, on the mound and in the field to win that elusive trophy.
Carlisle – On a dark, wet and dismal afternoon, the sun finally shined on the Versailles Tigers.
Keeton McEldowney homered and drove in three runs, Brett McEldowney pitched a complete game 5 hitter for his 9th win, and Versailles won the D-III District title, beating defending regional champion Summit Country Day 5-2 at Sam Franks Field.
Nothing could stop the Tigers on this day, including a steady, constant rain that began 10 minutes before the first pitch and never let up. For once, playing in lousy weather all spring proved to be a benefit for Versailles, which played error-less baseball and for the most part seemed unaffected by the conditions.
“It’s just a great team win,” said third year Tigers coach Ryan Schlater after his team improved to 20-4. “We got big plays up and down the lineup. Collin Peters got a big hit that gave us the lead, and Keeton hit the homer, it’s just a big win for us.
The Silver Knights, the D-III state runner-up last season, jumped on Brett McEldowney for three hits and a first inning run. It would have been worse if not for a great play by Tigers catcher Kyle Subler. With runners at first and second, McEldowney’s pitch skipped past Subler to the backstop. Subler played the carom perfectly and fired a strike to third baseman Cole Niekamp, who slapped the tag on a sliding Logan Bernhardt an instant before he reached the bag.
“That was a great play by Subby(Subler),” agreed Schlater. “He got the ball quick, made a good throw and Niekamp made a good tag. They had a couple of errors that set us up to score, but we did a good job of handling the elements and playing through the weather.”
The play became huge when the next batter, Connor McMurray, doubled, scoring one run, but not two thanks to Sublers heads-up play.
McMurray, a 6-1, 210 pound junior, who entered the game with a 7-1 record and a 1.14 earned run average, gagged the Tigers on 1 hit through four innings. Nevertheless, the Tigers knotted the score in the third on back to back throwing errors by the Knights, and a sacrifice fly by Keeton McEldowney.
Versailles took the lead with a two-out run in the fifth. Subler drew a walk, went to second on a wild pitch, and scored on a Keeton McEldowney single.
Summit pulled even in the bottom of the inning on an infield hit, a sacrifice bunt, and a two-out wild pitch that momentarily unnerved Brett McEldowney.
“Yea, I just lost my grip a little bit,” he admitted. “It was frustrating. It was just a fastball that got away from me. My teammates calmed me down, and they came right back and got the lead again the next inning, so I was happy about that.”
The Tigers were simply not going to be denied this time. In the top of the 6th, again with two out, Cole Niekamp doubled to left and scored on a Collin Peters single. Keeton McEldowney hit his first homer of the season with two out in the 7th, and Brett McEldowney followed with a triple and pinch-runner Adam Lyons scored when Kurtis Rutschilling’s high pop-up fell behind the Knights first baseman to conclude the scoring.
“It felt good when I hit it,” Keeton McEldowney said about his homer. “It got up in the air real high and I didn’t think it was going to make it out. This win is a great feeling.”
The Tigers scored four of their five runs with two out, a fact that put a big smile on their coaches’ face.
“We have struggled some with two out,” Schlater acknowledged. “For the guys to come out in the District final and get some two out hits and score some runs with two out, obviously that’s a big key for us winning today.”
Did McEldowney regain his composure after that wild pitch, you ask? The 6-4 senior merely retired the final 7 batters he faced, striking out five.
On the wet, miserable afternoon, McEldowney threw 93 pitches, 61 for strikes. He allowed five hits, two after the first inning, walked none and struck-out ten.
“This means a lot to me personally,” said the now 9-0 right-hander. “I lost the last two district final games so I wanted this one really bad. I knew I was getting the ball when we beat Arcanum Wednesday. We have five seniors and it means the world to us to get this win and keep our season going.
“I can’t say enough about Brett,” praised his coach. “He has been one of our best starters for three years and we can always count on him delivering for us. With the weather today, the conditions weren’t ideal, but he kept throwing strikes and just pitched a great game.”
Versailles finished with 5 runs on 8 hits, 7 in the last three innings, no errors and 6 runners left on. Summit’s numbers were 2,5,2 and 1.
The Tigers, who will play in the regional semifinals next Thursday at Athletes in Action Field in Xenia, won their first nine games of the season, then lost three straight to Turpin, Russia and Anna. Schlater, who said at the time he wasn’t worried about the slide, said there was no panic when things stopped going well.
“These guys are resilient. We don’t get down on ourselves. We are a good team, and we are a good team for a reason. We didn’t panic during that stretch and fought through it. Aside of that stretch, we have been solid all season and played a great game today.”
Indeed, after that 3 game skid, the Tigers have won 11 of their last 12, earned a share of the MAC title and now have a district championship to add to the bulging trophy case at Versailles High School.
“This is a big win for our program,” Schlater continued. “We talked the other day that these guys hadn’t had their gold medal moment, only silver. The guys really wanted this one today and we are excited to still be playing.
“And hey,” he added with a laugh. “If it wants to rain next week, bring it on!”
* On a personal note, a big thank you to Tom Watson, Ted Lyons and a third gentleman from Versailles whose name I didn’t get for their help after the game bringing life back to my dead car battery. They spent an extra ten minutes out in the rain, and it was greatly appreciated! (Joe Neves)