Tipp’s string of sectional titles broken…Bats fall silent against Kenton Ridge ace…A promising season falls short of the promise.
NEW CARLISLE – Consider his name a misnomer. Because on Thursday in the Division II sectional tournament, Kenton Ridge pitcher Kaleb Meeks was anything but that.
The senior hurler shut down Tippecanoe at Tecumseh High School, knocking the Red Devils out of the high school baseball tournament faster than any team had in the past eight years. Tipp’s streak of seven straight sectional championships ended following a 5-2 loss to the Cougars and their ace.
“It was a good season. It’s a good group of kids and I knew we were going to win a lot of games,” Tipp coach Bruce Cahill said. “Unless you win today or a league championship it really doesn’t make any difference. Hats off to them, they got both.”
Tipp (22-6) and Kenton Ridge (22-6) knew each other well from their rivalry in the Central Buckeye Conference. The Red Devils, playing their first season in the Greater Western Ohio Conference, had won 17 of their last 20 meetings including a 9-0 win on a cold Saturday in April where neither team pitched their aces.
The only thing cold on Thursday was Tipp’s bats. The Red Devils opened the bottom of the first inning with a lead-off double from senior Andrew Kraska. Meeks didn’t allow another hit until senior Cade Rogers’ RBI double in the fifth. Senior Bradley Calhoun had the final hit with a single in the sixth.
Still, Tipp had its chances. Meeks walked five and hit another batter.
A pair of those walks came in the bottom of the fourth with Tipp trailing 2-0. Senior Trevor Staggs and Calhoun drew one-out walks. Senior Austin Subler lofted a high fly to right that the fielder – perhaps thinking too much about throwing to third as Staggs readied to tag up – dropped for an error to load the bases. Meeks ended the threat getting junior Cole Barhorst to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.
Tipp entered hitting .368 as a team. They went 3-for-24 (.125) on Thursday and stranded seven runners overall.
“We didn’t take advantage of the walks that (Meeks) had,” Cahill said. “He definitely helped us out that way. Our big guys didn’t come through today.”
Tipp trailed 3-0 going into the bottom of the fifth. Senior Andrew Kraska drew a one-out walk. Rogers doubled him in and advanced to third on fielder interference. Hughes then hit a sacrifice fly to left to score Rogers.
Kenton Ridge pushed a run across in the top of the first against senior Aaron Hughes (6-1). Lead-off hitter Calvin Dibert singled. A sacrifice bunt pushed him to second. An error at third base and single by Cameron Kettler made it 1-0.
Kettler added an RBI double in the third to score Bailey Armentrout, who reached after getting hit by a pitch.
Luke Holt’s two-out solo homer in the fifth gave Kenton Ridge a 3-0 lead.
The Cougars added two more in the sixth. Drew Wichael singled to lead off the inning. Quinton Roach hit a one-out single. Hughes got a strike out to bring up Zach Schneider, who then ripped a line drive to center. Tipp’s Justyn Eichbaum leaped for the ball just over his head and came within inches of gloving it. It rolled to the fence for a two-run triple.
“You look at their batting average and I know there were a lot of games they didn’t have eight or nine hits in,” Cahill said of the Cougars, who came into the game hitting .285 as a team. “There were a lot of low scoring games. Today they hit the ball in the gap and that two-run triple was huge.
“You always want to score first in a game like this because it relaxes you. The last two years we scored in the first inning and won 1-0. That’s kind of the way it rolls.”
Kenton Ridge advances to play Waynesville for the Division II district championship 11 a.m. Saturday in Miamisburg. Waynesville beat Middletown Madison 11-5 on Thursday.
“You gotta play your best game against Tipp. They’re a great program and we have a lot of respect for them,” Shaffer said. “We’ve struggled against Tipp and they’ve had our number for a lot of years. It was good for those seniors to be able to get over the hump and get a big win against a great Tipp team.”
Prior to Thursday, Kenton Ridge’s last win over Tipp came in 2015. After that you have to go back to 2008, a skid of 13 straight losses to the Red Devils.
Hughes allowed eight hits, walked two and hit a batter in six innings. He struck out two. Sophomore Ian Yunker pitched the seventh and walked one, hit one and struck out one.
“With Hughes you’re not going to bang the ball around the park on him,” Shaffer said. “You’ve got to get big hits in big situations. … You’re not going to get a lot of opportunities against him.
“I was always ready to play for one run. I think getting the first run gave us a little confidence. These guys started believing and that’s all you need.”
As for Meeks, Shaffer said the coaching staff talked about pulling him after that near-miss fourth inning where the Red Devils left the bases loaded and again after Tipp scored two in the fifth.
“He struggled in the middle innings with his control. You don’t want to leave him out there to die on the mound,” Shaffer said. “We were pretty close but he said he wanted the ball. … He didn’t want to give it up. We were going to have to pry the ball out of his hand.”
Cahill took the moment in stride.
“It’s all good. It’s all good,” he said.
“We don’t mention (the sectional title streak). It’s on our website and they might see it there but we didn’t talk about it all week. I don’t think we expected to lose, but they played better than us. High school baseball is one and your done. That’s the way it goes.”