By John Lachmann
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Conner jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third inning, but the Cougars’ inability to generate any insurance runs ended up being costly.
North Bullitt battled back and beat Conner, 4-3 in a state quarterfinal at Whitaker Bank Park on Thursday.
“It’s never enough runs in the state tournament,” Cougars coach Brad Arlinghaus said. “There’s a chance with Blaise (Ostertag pitching) that three will stand. We just couldn’t get those extra runs across.”
With one out in the top of the third, junior left fielder Jeff Schneider and senior center fielder Cameron Ross singled and Ostertag, a junior right-hander, drew a walk to load the bases.
It appeared Conner may squander its opportunity when senior first baseman Jared struck out, but senior catcher Blake Hart laced a double down the left field line to score all three runs.
On the mound, Ostertag rolled through the first three inning, allowing just two singles, one of which was erased on the bases.
But Ostertag lost the strike zone in the fourth, walking the leadoff hitter and going 2-0 on sophomore third baseman Logan Wyatt before he unloaded on a fastball to make it 3-2.
“You come out and walk the first guy, and that guy always comes back to bite you, and then you fall behind the best hitter, and then he’s going to be sitting dead-red fastball, and he did what he’s supposed to do with it,” Arlinghaus said.
Wyatt smashed the ball over the 20-foot right field wall and onto the party deck, igniting his team and its ample fan base.
“There was a momentum swing,” Arlinghaus said. “They were quiet, they were dead, their student section – which was outstanding, they came in force – they were quiet, but you felt the spark and the swing of that momentum go their way.
To open the fifth, Ostertag was covering first on a routine grounder and dropped the ball. Ostertag induced a force out, the runner moved the second on another grounder and advanced to third on a wild pitch.
North Bullitt tied it on an infield single to deep short by senior second baseman Justin Stinson.
Junior left-hander Jacob Kelly led off the sixth with a single, and his courtesy runner was bunted to second before a seeing-eye grounder up the middle by senior DH Josh Exton took a high hop to elude the Conner defense and roll into the outfield, scoring the decisive run.
“That game-winning hit got by three guys and it barely got out of the infield,” Arlinghaus said. “That’s baseball though – that’s part of the game.”
The Cougars’ best chance to play add-on came in the top of the fifth when they still led, 3-2. Sophomore third baseman Jacob Owens singled and stole second, but on an excellent bunt by Schneider, Owens’ pinch runner hesitated between second and third and was cut down.
Instead of having a runner at third with one out it was Schneider at first, and Ostertag drew a walk later in the frame but Conner was unable to score.
Hart walked and was bunted to second in the sixth but the Cougars were unsuccessful on both at-bats with the runner in scoring position.
“Those are things that we executed the entire tournament – districts, regionals – we just came up short this time,” Arlinghaus said.
Ross had a two-out single in the seventh but was stranded there as Ostertag flew out to center to end it.
CONNER 003-000-0—3 7 1
N. BULLITT 000-211-X—4 7 1
WP: Kelly (9-1, 8 K’s). LP: Ostertag (3-4). HITTING LEADERS: C—Ross 2-4; Hart 2B, 3 RBI. NB—Wyatt HR (3), 2 RBI; Exton 2-3. RECORDS: North Bullitt 30-10, Conner 26-10.