High Schools: Big hit eludes Butler baseball in regional final loss

Vandalia Butler's Quin Hamilton tags out an Elder baserunner on a pickoff throw by catcher Boston Smith. Smith picked off two runners Saturday in the Aviators' 4-0 loss in eight innings in the Division I regional final.  Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
Vandalia Butler's Quin Hamilton tags out an Elder baserunner on a pickoff throw by catcher Boston Smith. Smith picked off two runners Saturday in the Aviators' 4-0 loss in eight innings in the Division I regional final. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

Aviators fall 4-0 to Cincinnati Elder in extra innings

Vandalia Butler did many things well on the baseball field Saturday. The Aviators made stellar defensive plays and big pitches.

But one thing was missing – the big hit.

And that gave Cincinnati Elder time to finally break through on the scoreboard in the eighth inning for a 4-0 victory in the Division I regional final at Day Air Ballpark, denying Butler its first trip to state since 2000.

“Nothing-nothing into the eighth inning and how many situations did we get out of?” Butler coach Trent Dues said. “We just couldn’t buy the big hit today. How many times have you heard it in baseball? Obviously, we’ve been getting the hits. It just didn’t happen today.”

The Aviators (29-3) came from a run down in the seventh inning twice to get to regionals. A four-run deficit in the eighth was a lot to ask against Elder junior Kellen Sandhas. He had held the Aviators to five singles and allowed only a leadoff single in the eighth.

Butler’s best chance to score came in the sixth with the bases loaded and one out. Leadoff man Quinton Hall walked, Carson Clark singled on a hit-and-run play through the spot vacated by the shortstop and Boston Smith was hit by a pitch. Kaden Echeman popped to shallow left for what looked like a hit until Elder shortstop Jeremy Ward made a diving catch over his shoulder.

Butler tried to get the speedy Hamilton home by forcing the catcher into a pickoff throw to first. But the return throw was just in time to get Hamilton and end the inning.

Echeman pitched seven shutout innings, but he was so close to 125-pitch limit rule that Dues turned to freshman Jordan Taylor to start the eighth. A leadoff single off the glove of the diving Hamilton was followed by two more singles to lead the bases.

Taylor walked the next batter then hit a batter for a 2-0 Elder lead. A sacrifice fly and a wild pitch made it 4-0.

“He’s only 15 years old,” said Smith, Butler’s senior catcher. “For him to step up in a regional final game, I was proud of him. He did his job. He threw strikes, got his off-speed over. He really competed.”

Dues said, “Jordan’s been great for us all year. It’s not his fault. They had some things roll their way.”

Before the eighth, Echeman and the defense in front of him – Smith – and behind him kept Elder from scoring.

In the second inning, Smith showed off the strong arm that has led him to sign with the University of Cincinnati and will lead to being drafted in July. He picked a runner off first (and got another one later in the game). In the third, Clark, the senior shortstop, started a double play. He had already made a great stop and throw to first for an out in the first inning.

In the sixth, Elder catcher Brennan Martin hit a standup triple with one out. With the infield in, Clark backhanded a sharp grounder, held Martin at third, and threw to first for the out. Then Echeman struck out Jackson Gutzwiller with a high fastball and came off the mound pumping up his team.

“That was one of the cooler moments of today’s game because we never quit,” Smith said. “It was just a constant will to keep going.”

Getting out of the tough spots kept Echeman’s adrenaline going as he his pitch count rose.

“When I struck them out it felt pretty good and felt like we were one inch closer to winning,” he said. “The defense played amazing. They were making plays for me when I wasn’t pitching my best. When I was pitching my best, they made plays too. I love my defense.”