By Josh Brown
PIQUA — For both Troy and Piqua, it really wasn’t about regional titles or state berths.
It was about extending baseball careers.
And on Tuesday night, in the winner-take-all showdown for the American Legion Region 2 championship, Troy (30-10) was able to earn one more week of baseball for its veteran players — and earned a trip to next week’s state legion tournament in the process — with an 8-4 victory over Piqua at Hardman Field.
“I wanted this so bad for this group of guys,” Troy Post 43 coach Frosty Brown said. “They’re not just great players, but they treat each other well and are friends off the field, too. As things are winding down here at the end of the year, you hate to see it coming to an end. But we get to play a little longer, and that’s the most important thing. We get to continue to play.”
For Piqua Post 184, which had been playing sudden death baseball since the beginning of the regional tournament, it marked the end of a quality tournament run and some personal milestones.
“For our guys, especially guys like Arron Boerger, Cam Johnson, Brayden Dohme and Jesse Wilson, who are just great baseball players, I just hate to see them go, hate to see it end for them,” Piqua co-coach J.J. Jennings said. “I just wanted to have Cam on the mound one last time. Monday night was the first time I’ve ever beaten Frosty, so that was exciting. You’ve got to give them credit, though. They were ready to go today.”
“This year’s been a pleasure,” Piqua co-coach Jeff Jennings said. “They didn’t give us any credit at the beginning of the year, didn’t think we could play with them. We played them close twice, but after last night, they came ready to play tonight. You’ve got to give them all the credit in the world. They just beat us.”
Piqua forced Tuesday night’s game by defeating Troy Monday night — thanks in large part to quality play in the outfield. On Tuesday, though, Post 43 was able to find the gaps.
A two-out rally in the bottom of the second started the scoring for Troy. Jackson Ford singled and Ethan Garland ripped an RBI double that the left fielder simply couldn’t make the play on going up the hill at the fence. Adam Gunston followed with a looping RBI single to right that fell just in front of the diving Post 184 fielder, and Troy led 2-0.
Post 43 seemed to put the game away in the third. A three-base error on a dropped fly ball hit by Michael Hale led off the inning, Trenton Wood was hit by a pitch and Cody Harsman reached on a throwing error that allowed a run to score. Ryan Lavy followed with a two-run double down the line in right that chased Piqua starter Boerger — who had thrown 3 2/3 solid innings of relief just the night before.
Piqua brought in Wilson — who had started and gone 5 1/3 innings in Monday’s game — who got a strikeout for the inning’s first out before Garland reached on an error and Gunston hit an RBI single. After a groundout for the second out, Brandon Nesbitt hit an RBI single and Hale hit an RBI double over the center fielder’s head to make it an 8-0 game after three.
“We were hoping for a little better,” Jeff Jennings said. “Last night we caught every ball they hit in the air. Tonight, the ball was bouncing out of our gloves — and they just hit the ball.”
Post 184 was able to fight back in the top of the fourth, though. Austin Arnold drew a walk to start the inning, then Wilson beat out an infield single. After a balk moved the runners up, another infield single by Dylan Arnold put Piqua on the board. Troy starter Chris Heisey got a pair of strikeouts and looked like he was going to get out of trouble, but an errant throw on a tough grounder by Boerger allowed two more runs to score. Noah Gertner added an RBI single up the middle to make it an 8-4 game before he was caught stealing to end the inning by Troy catcher Garland — the second runner he’d caught stealing in the game.
It was the only hiccup in an otherwise brilliant performance by Heisey.
Heisey went the distance, allowing seven hits — three of them in that four-run fourth — and walking three, giving up only one earned run. He also struck out 11 — six of those looking.
“I think for Chris, we had that long inning where we scored six runs, and that threw him off. That’s why that fourth inning happened,” Brown said. “He pitched a great ballgame for us going the distance. I think this is the third nine-inning complete game that he’s thrown for us the last couple years.
“Piqua tries to intimidate you with its speed, so Garland throwing out two runners stealing was big. And then (Zach) Kirby had a back pick in the ninth that really snuffed them out in that inning.”
Nothing happened from that point on. Heisey only allowed two baserunners after that — one which was stranded on third and another which was picked off by backup catcher Kirby and caught in a rundown at third. And Piqua brought in Austin Arnold in the fourth for three solid innings of relief, then Gordon — who pitched a complete game on Sunday against Sidney to get Post 184 into the championship round in the first place — pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth.
“We settled down, but we just didn’t have any big hits after the four-run inning,” Jeff Jennings said. “It was still a ballgame until the final inning, but we just couldn’t make it happen this time.
“It’s tough playing sudden death baseball every night for almost a week. But Troy beat us tonight, and heck, I hope they go on and win state. Next year, we’ll be ready.”
Troy moves on to play in the NABF World Series in Youngstown this weekend, beginning today, before heading to Lancaster next week for the State Legion Tournament.
Or, as Brown put it, one more week of baseball.
“When you’re my age, 68, you’ve got to appreciate every time you get to go to the state tournament,” he said. “I’ve been to quite a few, and that’s how you grade your summer, whether you made it or not. And it never gets old. I’m glad to get to go with this group. The kids rallied back from Monday night and did a good job tonight.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.