BROOKVILLE — The unfortunate reality for Franklin High School’s baseball team Tuesday was this: The celebration was for the spoilers.
The Wildcats came to Brookville seeking to clinch at least a share of their first Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division championship since 2012, but the visitors couldn’t hold a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning.
A throwing error led to a pair of runs as Brookville stunned Franklin 5-4, leaving the Wildcats in wait-and-see mode in their search for a title.
“It’s tough, man,” first-year Franklin coach Kyle Wainscott said. “It’s been a dream of mine, but it’s not about me. It’s about the kids. They’ve worked hard and got through a rough stretch early in the season, and we controlled our own destiny tonight. It is what it is.”
Failure to execute bunt defense stung the Wildcats a couple times, and Brookville’s Gabe Starnes delivered a game-ending sacrifice fly to plate Hayden Sharritt.
“It’s a pretty surreal moment,” said Starnes, a junior catcher. “It feels really nice. I think it finally shows what kind of team we have.”
It was the end of a seven-game winning streak for Franklin, which fell to 15-4 overall and finished 8-4 in SWBL Southwestern play.
Now the Wildcats need Valley View (7-3), Eaton (6-3) and Bellbrook (4-3) all to lose at least one more league game.
Valley View still must play Bellbrook and Eaton. Eaton still must play Bellbrook, Valley View and Monroe. Bellbrook still must play Brookville twice, Eaton, Oakwood and Valley View.
Wainscott said there are too many possibilities to consider the odds of what might happen, so Franklin will simply take the results as they come.
“We definitely would rather back into it than not win it, but we better be living right,” Wainscott said. “This is a good baseball league. At the beginning of the year, I would’ve said eight wins probably wouldn’t be enough to win it.”
Southpaw Ben Smith pitched the first four innings for Brookville (7-9, 3-6), and right-hander Steven Jones didn’t allow a run the rest of the way to complete the seven-hitter and pick up the win.
The Blue Devils are under the direction of veteran coach Chuck Harlow. This is his first year at Brookville after 34 seasons at Northmont (and five at Dixie before that).
“I’ve landed at a great spot,” Harlow said. “It’s a good community with awesome kids, and it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve had injuries, but our kids have hung in there and battled every game. They’re not quitters.”
Jones had two hits for Brookville, with Manny Willis, Carter Pickens and Mason Stout all adding RBIs.
Pickens led off the bottom of the seventh with a single to right field. Stout put down a bunt that was followed by an errant throw down the right-field line, allowing Pickens to score and sending Stout to third.
Wainscott opted to intentionally walk Sharritt and Jack Meyers to load the bases. Willis then bounced into a 6-2 fielder’s choice before Starnes’ sacrifice fly to left field finalized the upset.
Starnes hadn’t done much at the plate to that point. He struck out, popped out and fouled out to right field in the cleanup spot.
“I’m usually trying to get the team up when they’re down, so it felt good that everyone was getting up in the last inning,” Starnes said. “I’m pretty sure I ran from the dugout to home plate like three times in there.
“Hayden Sharritt is one of my better friends on the team. We always kind of pick each other up, and I looked at him and said, ‘I’m getting you in.’ The last pitch was up and inside … that’s probably my sweet spot. I know Hayden is probably the fastest one on the team. It just so happened it was a high pitch. I didn’t try to hit it in the ground or anything. I hit it where it was pitched.”
It wasn’t exactly a deep drive, but it was deep enough that Sharritt had no problem scoring from third.
“I think a lot of people will be a little surprised when they see this score,” Harlow said. “We got a break and took advantage of it. Our record doesn’t show it, but we’ve played pretty good innings all year. Today, we didn’t have that one bad inning that’s been hurting us.
“Franklin’s good 1 through 9, so that’s a huge win for us. We have hit the ball all year. We just made some things happen with the bunt tonight.”
Tytus Tussey went the distance on the hill for Franklin, giving up seven hits while striking out three.
Tussey and Aiden Kinser drove in runs for the Wildcats, and Kinser drilled a game-opening triple. Gunner Lakins had two hits on the same day his older brother Travis became a major leaguer with the Boston Red Sox.
“Two bunts gave up almost every run in that game,” Wainscott said. “It’s not the first time we’ve lost like this. We do practice it, but it’s been our nemesis all year.
“Brookville gave us all we wanted at our place last week and did the same thing up here. The guy in the other dugout has 750 wins, so they know what they’re doing. You’re not going to walk up here and beat a guy like that easily. Chuck told me tonight he’s been in the game 40 years. I haven’t even been alive that long.”
Wainscott said the majority of his team’s games have been away from Franklin Community Park. All four SWBL defeats have been on the road.
On Wednesday, the Wildcats will travel to National Trail, while the Blue Devils host Oakwood.
WP — Steven Jones (1-3); LP — Tytus Tussey (1-2). Records: F 15-4, 8-4 SWBL Southwestern; B 7-9, 3-6 SWBL Southwestern
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