By John Lachmann
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Prior to the Conner-Boyd County game, teams in the state baseball tournament were averaging just 2.4 runs per game.
But the Cougars scored 12 times – twice the run total of any other team in the state tournament to that point – in a six-inning 12-0 win over the Lions at Whitaker Bank Park on Tuesday.
A key to Conner’s offensive outburst was the success of the top two hitters in its order – senior Cameron Ross and junior Blaise Ostertag – reaching base in all eight of their plate appearances. They finished 6-for-6 with five runs and two RBI.
“When Cameron gets on, he makes things happen,” Cougars coach Brad Arlinghaus said. “He gets on he can steal second base, he can score on a base hit from first, he can score on a base hit from second. He’s a tone setter for our offense.”
Ross – the starting pitcher – singled to lead off the game, stole second and went to third on a passed ball. Ostertag, the center fielder, reached on an infield single, and the throw went into the dugout, scoring Ross.
That was all the scoring for the Cougars in the first inning, but they struck for three more in the second.
With two out and a runner at second, junior left fielder Jeff Schneider lined a doubled just inside the third base line to make it 2-0. Ross followed with a shot to almost the identical spot for an RBI double.
Ostertag followed with a towering fly ball that dropped just fair down the right field line for a triple that scored Ross.
On the mound, Ross scuffled the first two innings but pitched his way out of jams. Boyd County had runners at first and second with one out in the first and failed to score, and the Lions loaded the bases with two out before Ross induced an inning-ending fly out.
Ross hit his stride after that and retired the last seven batters he faced. He was lifted after throwing four innings, allowing two hits and fanning five so he could be utilized later in the tournament.
“Nerves probably had a lot to do with it,” Arlinghaus said. “This is probably the biggest game these kids have ever played – we’ve got a lot of people here watching. But he definitely settled in and the third and fourth inning he was definitely dealing.”
It was 4-0 after Ross recorded his final out, but the Cougars were able to save him because of a four-run fifth.
Ross led off with a single, and Ostertag sacrificed and was safe when the first baseman dropped the ball. Senior shortstop Jared Williams singled to load the bases, and senior catcher Blake Hart hooked one inside the first base line for a bases-clearing double to make it 7-0.
Junior first baseman Ryan Ward followed by crushing one off the left field wall for an RBI double.
Once again it was Ross and Ostertag jump-starting the in the sixth. With one out, Ross walked and Ostertag doubled. Williams walked, and one out later Ward grounded one through the hole on the left side to plate two.
“We’ve been doing that all year,” Ross said. “Like Coach said, we’ve got the best top five in Northern Kentucky, but now that we’re down here at state, I’d take us against anybody else out here.”
Senior second baseman Dalton Harshbarger and junior DH Dillon Lockstead followed with run-scoring singles to cap off Conner’s scoring.
Freshman Nick Craddock and Hart both worked a scoreless inning of relief to close it out.
The Cougars will face North Bullitt in a state quarterfinal at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
CONNER 130-044—12 14 0
BOYD CO. 000-000—0 4 3
WP: Ross (8-0). LP: McCoy (7-4). HITTING LEADERS: C—Ross 3-3, 2B; Ostertag 3-3, 2B, 3B; Hart 2B, 3 RBI; Ward 2-4, 2B, 3 RBI; Harshbarger 2-4; Schneider 2B. BC—Porscelley 2-2. RECORDS: Conner 26-9, Boyd County 22-16.