Everyone loves a good redemption story. Fort Loramie junior third baseman CJ Billing provided one Thursday in the Division IV state baseball semifinals at Huntington Park.
After Billing fielded a sacrifice bunt and overthrew first base in the fifth inning, allowing Garfield Heights Trinity to score the first run of the game, he tripled to center field in the sixth inning to score Carter Mescher and tie the game. An inning later, Shane Hilgefort’s sacrifice fly scored Ben Barhorst to give the Redskins the lead, and they beat Trinity 2-1 to advance to the state championship game for the first time since 2010.
» PHOTOS: Fort Loramie vs. Trinity
Billing had to forget his mistake when he came to the plate with two outs in the sixth. It was a similar story in the regional final against Cincinnati Christian when he struggled on the mound in the first inning but drove in seven runs to lead the Redskins to an 8-7 victory.
“You can’t put your head down,” Billing said. “It’s a long game.”
Billing’s coaches and teammates kept his spirits up after the error and before his big hit.
“C.J.’s had a heck of a year,” Fort Loramie coach Jeff Sanders said. “I can’t say enough about C.J. He’s resilient. I’m sure he was disappointed. I told him, ‘We’ve been here before. Just do what you do. Put a good swing on it, and it’ll go.’ Sure enough, he got a pitch he liked.”
The Redskins (26-6) will play Hicksville (21-5) in the state championship game at 10 a.m. Saturday. Hicksville, which won its only state title in 1978, beat Whiteoak 4-1 in the second semifinal.
A victory would give the Redskins their third state title. They won championships in 2007 and 2010.
“It’s going to be unbelievable,” Hilgefort said.
Hilgefort provided the other big at-bat. The winning rally started when Mike Hoying was hit by a pitch with one out in the seventh. Barhorst pinch ran for Hoying. Then Devin Wehrman walked.
At that point, Trinity replaced starting pitcher Jake Visha with Clay Anderson. Then, with Hilgefort batting, a passed ball allowed the runners to advance to second and third. Hilgefort took advantage by lofting a fly ball to right to score Barhorst.
“All I was thinking was just make contact and let the ball do whatever it has to do,” Hilgefort said. “Coach told me to hit it to the opposite field, and I’m not too good at that. When I hit it, I said, all I could think, was, ‘I did it.’ I knew he was scoring.”
The late runs helped Fort Loramie junior starting pitcher Jared Middendorf earn a victory. He survived a shaky start, walking one batter in the first and then loading the bases with three walks in the second inning.
Middendorf settled down after that and walked one batter in the last five innings. He allowed three hits, struck out six and retired the last seven batters of the game.
“I had butterflies the night before, and I was nervous on the bus ride,” Middendorf said, “but after those first couple innings, I just calmed down. I felt a lot more confident. I knew I had my stuff. I knew my teammates were going to back me up, and they did.”
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