The Thomas Worthington High School baseball team secured at least a share of its second consecutive OCC-Central Division championship with a 2-1 win over visiting Olentangy Liberty on May 6.
The Cardinals improved to 19-6 overall and 10-3 in the OCC-Central and broke a first-place tie with the Patriots, who fell to 9-4 in the league. The teams concluded league play against each other May 8 at Liberty, with Thomas needing a win to capture the outright title.
The Cardinals had been alone in first place before losing to Central Crossing 10-8 on April 29 and Hilliard Davidson 4-3 on May 1. The latter loss was Thomas' third in four games, as it had split two games April 27, losing to Westerville North 5-2 and beating Brunswick 2-0.
The Cardinals got back on track with an 8-7 win over Davidson in a league game May 3 but lost to Kilbourne 4-2 on May 4.
"We gave up four unearned runs in the fifth inning against Central Crossing and we also wasted an opportunity to put the game out of reach earlier when we led 5-1 in the third inning and had the bases loaded with nobody out," coach Stephen Gussler said. "But we didn't put it away and that gave (Central Crossing) some life.
"In the loss to Davidson, we pitched well enough, but we gave up two runs in the seventh when we misplayed a bunt and botched a rundown on a first-and-third situation where we picked the runner off. You can't do those types of things and get away with it often. We were a little sloppy on defense. Plus, we didn't get the timely hits that we're used to getting."
In the win over Davidson, the Cardinals squandered a 7-3 lead, giving up four runs in the fifth inning, before scoring the winning run on a wild pitch with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh.
"We didn't play particularly well, but it's always nice to win when you're not playing well," Gussler said. "We were fortunate to get the wild pitch and we'll take it, but I had a feeling we'd score by putting the ball in play right there anyway."
Gussler knows the game and its percentages and understands that teams can't always come through with a clutch hit.
"Sometimes coaches are critically looking at their team in an effort to improve this or that," he said. "But it's hard to complain overall when we're hitting .389 with runners in scoring position. Our overall team average is .320, so we have clutch hitters."
Leading the way has been shortstop Ben Miller, who was hitting .443 with 20 runs and 27 RBI through 22 games. The senior had a team-high five doubles and a team-best .519 on-base percentage.
Other key contributors included pitcher/center fielder Roscoe Blackburn (.380 batting average), left fielder Emerson Keppler (.356, 22 runs, 12 RBI), catcher Jace Komminsk (.324) and right fielder Nick Highley (.300).
Keppler also had a team-best five triples and was tied with third baseman Tommy Pischel for the team lead in stolen bases with 12.
"Between Highley, our leadoff hitter, and Keppler in the two-hole, we have 46 runs, and that's quite substantial," Gussler said. "We're getting production for the most part throughout the lineup and our pitching has been great, as we expected."
Through 22 games, Blackburn, a left-hander, was 5-0 with one save and a 2.65 ERA in 39 2/3 innings. Nick Pauley was 5-2 with a 1.37 ERA in 41 innings, left-hander Sam Ankrom was 4-1 with a 1.73 ERA in 24 1/3 innings and left-hander Scott Brown was 2-0 with a 2.91 ERA in 21 2/3 innings.
The Cardinals close the regular season Thursday, May 9, at home against Teays Valley. They then will focus their attention to winning a second consecutive Division I district championship.
Thomas is seeded fourth in the 41-team district behind Pickerington North, Olentangy Orange and Watkins Memorial and will open in the second round at home against 38th-seeded Columbus West on Wednesday, May 15.
The winner will face ninth-seeded Dublin Jerome, 24th-seeded Whetstone or 28th-seeded Mount Vernon in a district semifinal May 21 at Davidson, where the winner advances to a district final May 23 at Otterbein University.
The Cardinals, who won their first district title since 1981 last spring before losing to Olentangy Orange 7-6 in a regional semifinal, have not played Jerome, Whetstone or Mount Vernon this season.
"We've got to stay focused and not make the types of errors and mistakes that we made against Central Crossing and Davidson," Gussler said.
"We've got experience and pitching and we accomplished our goals last year, so there's no reason to not have those expectations again. But we've got to stay on top of our game to do it again."
Sommers leads Wolves over Cardinals
Kilbourne is hoping that its 4-2 win over Thomas on May 4 provides some momentum heading into the Division I district tournament.
The Wolves are seeded 36th and open at second-seeded Olentangy Orange in the second round Wednesday, May 15.
The winner will play 11th-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley, 17th-seeded Zanesville or 26th-seeded Upper Arlington in a district semifinal May 20 at New Albany, where the winner will advance to a district final May 22 at Ohio Dominican.
Kilbourne, which fell to 5-16 overall and 3-10 in the OCC-Cardinal with a 4-2 loss to Dublin Scioto on May 6, has not played Orange, Tri-Valley, Zanesville or Upper Arlington this season. The Wolves were scheduled to play Orange on April 25, but the game was canceled because of bad weather.
Brian Sommers led the way against Thomas, limiting the Cardinals to four hits while improving to 4-2 and lowering his ERA to 2.48. The senior tossed a one-hitter in a 1-0 win over Hilliard Bradley on April 30.
"It was a great feeling (to beat Thomas) because it was my last time playing against our rival in any sport," Sommers said. "I had it in my mind that I was going to have the game of my life because I knew I was going to get the start.
"But then (coach Jeff Boulware) told me I'd be on a 40-pitch limit because it was a non-conference game and he wanted me to be ready to pitch against (Scioto in the OCC-Cardinal finale May 8), so I thought I'd get two or three innings. But when we led 1-0 after two innings, he told me to screw the pitch count, (that) I was going to go the whole way if I could."
Kilbourne scored three runs in the top of the seventh to open a 4-0 lead. Thomas scored both its runs in the bottom of the inning and had the potential winning run at the plate in catcher Jace Komminsk with runners on first and third base.
Komminsk grounded sharply to second baseman Hayden Shenefield, who stepped on second and threw to first for a game-ending double play.
"We desperately needed a win like this and Brian really stepped up as he has all season," Boulware said. "This could give us some momentum for the tournament. The guys played well behind Brian. Hayden Shenefield made some great plays at second base, Dominic Brown had some great plays in center field and (left fielder) Danny Dutko started our big three-run seventh with a hit."
Gussler was impressed by Sommers' performance on the mound.
"He's got four of their five wins and any time he's on the mound, they've got a chance to win," Gussler said. "He did a great job. I think we only had one hit until the seventh inning."
The Wolves close the regular season Thursday, May 9, at Davidson.