FAIRBORN – Greeneview followed its season-long script of Keegan Phillips pitching six innings and Hunter Brooks taking off his catching gear and pitching the seventh. But in a regional semifinal, scripts sometimes contain an unexpected plot twist.
The Rams, certain of victory when the inning started, had to defuse the ticking time bomb of defeat. A run was in on a balk and runners were on second and third. With a two-run lead, Phillips reappeared to save the day.
He threw three pitches to get a fly ball to right fielder Chase Walker for the final out in the Rams’ 5-3 victory over Cincinnati Country Day at Wright State’s Nischwitz Stadium to advance to their first region final since 1994. The Rams (26-4) face Heath, a 9-0 winner over Waynesville, at 5 p.m.
“I really can’t put into words how exciting it is,” Rams coach John Brooks said. “It got a little more exciting than it needed to be there at the end.”
Stressful was more like it.
Phillips left with a 5-2 lead and went to center field to start the seventh while Brooks took the mound.
“I expected that he was going to come in and go 1-2-3, but everyone has bad days,” Phillips said. “I had bad days in the past, and it’s part of the game. He didn’t do anything wrong. It was just one of those days.”
Brooks walked the first batter and then got a bit unlucky on a bloop double to right. Then he walked another batter to load the bases. Then he balked to let in a run and move the two runners who could tie the score to second and third. Then he shifted from a two-seam fastball to a four-seamer to keep the ball down, struck out the ninth-place hitter and induced the the leadoff hitter into a pop up for the second out.
“Hunter wasn’t on and he was missing up a lot,” Coach Brooks said. “I’m really glad that he grinded and got two outs even with the stuff that he had. It was way too stressful as a coach, and as a dad.”
Then high school rules came into play. Brooks was battling CCD’s Nate Paumier, who fouled off four straight two-strike pitches, when Brooks reached 30 pitches. If he threw one more pitch, he wouldn’t be permitted to pitch Friday. And he could be needed in a similar situation.
“I was wanting to stay out there,” Hunter Brooks said. “And then when I heard [Phillips] was going in, I had full faith in him. Hard not to trust him.”
Phillips returned to the mound with a 2-2 count. After another foul ball and ball three, the final out was recorded.
“I know Hunter will come back,” Phillips said. “I know he’s not too happy right now, but he’ll go home, fix it and then he’ll come back tomorrow ready to compete.”
In another odd twist, Phillips was the winning pitcher and earned the save.
“I didn’t even know that was possible,” he said.
With all that happened in the seventh, the Rams’ ability to get timely hits was almost forgotten. Tanner Thornton, whose hot bat of late has moved him up to sixth in the batting order, followed a Jarrod Mays double with another double for a 1-0 lead in the second. Thornton got the scoring started in the three-run sixth with an RBI single. Kaden Knisley followed with another RBI single and the final run scored on a throwing error for a 5-2 lead.
“When you’re you’re riding a hot hand just keep swinging it,” Coach Brooks said of Thornton. “Kind of the game of baseball, right? Some days you just get hot, some weeks you get hot. He’s hot.”
The Rams will send junior Landon Gardner to the mound after toying with the idea of using him the seventh. Phillips will be in center, Brooks behind the plate and Brooks ready to pitch the seventh if needed.
“I have all the confidence,” Phillips said. “Landon’s been consistent all year. He gets outs.”