Richardson pitches Butler past Fairmont, into district final

Centerville, Troy also advance

KETTERING — Vandalia Butler junior Hunter Richardson pitches in big games and knows what it means to get big outs. When his high school days are over he will get more of the same pitching opportunities for Kentucky in the SEC.

But Tuesday’s win or go home game at Fairmont will stick in his memory more than most.

“Unlike every other game,” he said. “Energy was very high today, and it was good.”

When the dust and overflowing emotions settled after a seventh-inning rally, Richardson had pitched third-seeded Butler to a 3-1 Division I district semifinal victory over No. 2 Fairmont.

“Great, great high school atmosphere,” Butler coach Trent Dues said. “Probably a little too much chirping went on. But as far as the game was concerned — the game was a great game.”

Richardson walked off the mound after the final out — his 10th strikeout — celebrating with emotion unlike after any other game.

“I love the energy,” said Richardson, who allowed only three hits. “Just got to get in there and throw strikes. You can’t miss spots. These guys are going to hit it. They’re a pretty good hitting team, so I think I did pretty good throwing strikes and getting outs.”

The Aviators (23-6) will attempt to win their first district title since 2021 when they play Loveland at 5 p.m. Thursday at Mason High School.

“We have high expectations for our team, and I think we really showed that today,” Richardson said.

Fairmont (22-6), however, got a fast start against Richardson in the first inning. Gabe Ledbetter led off with a walk, Stevie Doty doubled and Asa Dunlevey hit a sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead. But that was all for the Firebirds.

“I was missing spots early, and then after those first two innings I was just really focused on throwing strikes, not trying to overpower them too much,” Richardson said.

Meanwhile, Doty was cruising on his way to an 11-strikeout performance.

“He threw strikes, got ahead of guys a lot of times,” Fairmont coach Matt Adams said. “This is what we expect from Stevie. Get these hot days, and he just comes out on fire.”

Butler, however, made pay Doty pay for a pair of two-out walks in the third inning when Max Rubins tied the score 1-1 with a single.

The pitchers’ duel continued into the seventh inning when the inevitable happened. In a coin-flip game, sooner a later a difference-making hit slips through the infield.

Again, Doty retired the first two Butler batters before the inning turned. Mason Reckner’s single took a high bounce over Dunlevey’s head at third base. Landon Case pinch ran for Reckner and moved up to second on a passed ball.

Then it was Austin Flohre’s turn. His grounder up the middle had enough steam to get through and send Case home with the go-ahead run. Then Jackson Schilling struck out on a wild pitch, reached first and Flohre scored an extra run.

“That’s what you want,” Adams said. “It was a game that you want to coach and it’s a game you want to play in, both teams competing with each other. It’s what was expected.”

Fairmont, which won the GWOC last year and shared the title with Springboro this year, came up just short of where last season ended in the district final. Adams said last year’s team set the bar high and this year’s team followed through on that expectation until the tournament run ended in the seventh.

“It’s how baseball is, but you’ve got to reduce the mistakes, the walks, we overthrew first base twice, not blocking a third strike,” Adams said. “It’s those little things, little fundamentals. You just can’t let those extra runners move up. They do the small ball well, and I thought we did a really good job preparing for this game. We took them out of what they like to do. I’d love to go at them multiple times.”

In other Division I district finals:

Centerville 4, Springboro 3: Jayden Benson singled in the go-ahead run in a two-run fourth inning and Josh Miller allowed only two hits over the final four innings as the Elks upset top-seeded Springboro (25-3).

Sixth-seeded Centerville (16-12) advances to play Cincinnati Elder at 5 p.m. Thursday at Lakota East in a district final.

Troy 2, Beavercreek 1: Freshman Nathan McDowell and senior Caleb Akins combined on a five-hitter to lead the Trojans into Thursday’s 5 p.m. district final against Mason at Centerville.

McDowell pitched six innings and struck out seven to lead fifth-seeded Troy (22-7) over the No. 4 Beavers (18-9). The Trojans’ Aidan Gorman doubled in Evan Kaiser, who led off the inning with a double, with the winning run in the top of the sixth.

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