High School baseball: Butler, Carroll two wins away from state final four

Butler High School catcher Boston Smith. Greg Billing/CONTRIBUTED
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Butler High School catcher Boston Smith. Greg Billing/CONTRIBUTED

Aviators face Mason; Patriots play Marengo Highland today in regional semifinals

The Carroll and Vandalia Butler baseball teams play in regional semifinals today. At much different times this season, that didn’t seem possible.

Carroll was once 3-12. Butler trailed by a run heading into its final at-bat in its two most recent tournament games. But here they both are two wins away from the state tournament.

Carroll (13-14) plays Marengo Highland in Division II at 5 p.m. at Mason High School. Butler (28-2) plays Mason in Division I at 2 p.m. at Day Air Ballpark. The regional finals are at 5 p.m. Friday.

Carroll won 10 of its last 12 games, including a wild 11-10 win over Hamilton Ross in nine innings last Thursday. The Patriots blew a 9-4 lead, then won on senior Steven Chapman’s two-run double in the ninth and with strong relief work by John Lawhorn.

“A big part of it is that every team had to have a little bit of a jump start because of taking last year off, and it’s just that we’re real young and that just magnified the problem,” said Carroll coach Mike Sheets who is retiring after 26 years at his alma mater.

This is the farthest Sheets has taken a team and the farthest the program has made it since the early 1970s. Sheets has been to several district finals.

“It is tremendously rewarding just to see the kids believe in themselves,” Sheets said. “Being able to have this kind of end for myself is nice, but it pales in comparison to what the kids are getting out of it.”

Sheets said when his players began to believe they could compete as varsity players, and became more coachable, their season turned around.

“When they finally realized they could play and got a little confidence, they started not making the mistakes they had at the beginning of the season,” Sheets said.

Innings with four or five errors were common during the first half of the season. The Patriots also had to overcome the loss of senior pitcher and cleanup hitter Jacob Maurer to a broken arm when he was hit by a pitch in preseason practice. Maurer will play at Division I Lafayette of the Patriot League.

“He could have had a huge year, and I think we would’ve won quite a few more games because of his added talent and his team leadership,” Sheets said.

The Patriots have leaned on Chapman and sophomore Michael Duckro to be their top two starters and play shortstop. Chapman, who will play at Division II Ohio Dominican, will start on the mound Thursday. He has a 1.39 ERA and leads the team in hitting at .506.

Sheets said assistant coaches Mike Sanchez, T.R. Smart, Andrew Madlinger, Mike Malesko and Chanler Fedkow have been instrumental in getting the Patriots to mature as a team.

Butler has been at the forefront all season. The Aviators are ranked No. 1 the state coaches poll and are trying to reach the state tournament for the first time since their only trip in 2000. Trent Dues coached that team and is in his 27th year.

The Aviators are led by senior catcher Boston Smith, the Miami Valley League Player of the Year who will play in college at Cincinnati. Smith runs well, hits for power and has a strong arm.

“He’s just a got a lot of tools,” Dues said. “He blocks and receives very well, and he controls the running game. It’s a nice thing to have back there.”

The Aviators trailed Sidney 2-1 before winning 3-2, then trailed Cincinnati Moeller 4-3 before winning 5-4. Next is always tough Mason. The teams have met several times over the years, including district final victories for Butler in 2018 and 2012.

“We’re not afraid of them,” Dues said. “We’ve played them in the regular season before and it’s always a battle, just like every tournament game we’ve had with them it’s come down to the wire. And I expect a battle on Thursday.”

The Aviators have five other first-team all-league performers: Bryce Echeman, Kaden Echeman (Lakeland Junior College in Illinois), Carson Clark (Mount St. Mary’s in Maryland), Quinton Hall (Eastern Kentucky) and Cameron Hendricks (Edison Sate).

“We’re solid through the lineup, our defense is very solid and we’re solid on the mound and we run the bases well,” Dues said. “We just do a lot of things well, and we don’t beat ourselves. In baseball that’s a pretty good recipe.”

Other games: Hamilton Badin meets Cincinnati Wyoming in the other Division II semifinal today at 5. The Rams are bidding for a 14th trip to state.

Springfield Shawnee has never been to state. The Braves take on Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy at 2 p.m. at Wright State.

In Division IV, Cedarville has come on strong late in the season in search of its first state berth since 1945. The Indians will face three-time state champion Fort Loramie at 2 p.m. at Cincinnati Princeton. Russia plays Lancaster Fisher Catholic at 5 p.m..