By Josh Brown
BEAVERCREEK — Before this season began, the Troy baseball team had played in the district final or beyond in three of the last four years.
But even though the Trojans bowed out of the tournament in Thursday’s sectional final round, coach Ty Welker couldn’t have been more pleased.
“This was probably one of the more rewarding years I’ve had in coaching,” he said. “To start where we were, 1-6 with a young group … and we grew. We just grew. And that’s rewarding. We’ve won more games, went farther in the tournament before — but to take a team like that and see growth, that’s pretty awesome.”
And the ninth-seeded Trojans had a measuring stick to compare themselves to from earlier in the season, as well, as they faced No. 2 Springboro — a team that beat them 2-0 in the third game of the year. And though Troy had grown since then, so had the Panthers (19-9) as they held off the Trojans 6-3 in the Division I sectional championship game Thursday at Beavercreek High school.
Still, it was a solid finish to the season for Troy, which closed the year with a 17-13 record after getting off to a 2-7 start. Troy had won eight straight games coming into this week and 10 of its last 11, but lost two straight games to Kenton Ridge and Beavercreek that were picked up late to help prepare for Springboro.
“A lot of people considered us a rebuilding team this year,” Welker said. “We only had three seniors, graduated 12 last year. But I don’t think that’s the team we were. We were one of the top six teams in the Dayton area — there were only six of us left playing today. If you want to say we were rebuilding? I tell you, there’s a lot of teams that would’ve traded places with us.
“We didn’t rebuild. We competed, and we have nothing to be ashamed of.”
And the improvement from the beginning of the year was clear from the start on Thursday.
Tyler Brandenburg led off the game by hammering a double off the base of the fence in left field, advanced to third on a sac fly to the warning track by Hayden Kotwica and scored on an RBI groundout by Jake Daniel to give the Trojans a quick 1-0 lead after the top of the first.
From there, though, scoring became a struggle against Springboro starter Drew Saunier. From the second inning to the sixth, the Trojans got only one hit and one walk but had four runners reach on errors. Still, Troy was caught stealing once and left the other five stranded — including runners on second and third in the fifth and sixth innings.
“The first game, they beat us 2-0 — but it wasn’t close,” Welker said. “We didn’t pose a threat. Last time, we had two guys on base the whole game — and against the same pitcher. But we’re a different team now. We battled. Sure, we left some guys in scoring position. But we came out the first inning, got a couple hits, put the ball in play and made things happen. I’m not upset by that at all.”
Springboro, meanwhile, slowly began to figure out Troy starter Kotwica. After a one-two-three first inning, Bryce Haberthier reached on a two-out error, moved up to second on a walk and scored the tying run on a slow-rolling RBI single back up the middle by Jacob Beady — and 1-1 is where the game stayed until the bottom of the fourth.
There, the Panthers began to hit the ball hard. Ryan Little hit a leadoff double and was driven home on an RBI single by Haberthier to give Springboro the lead. After a walk and a sac bunt put runners on second and third, Josh Thompson hit a two-run triple to the left-center gap, then Cameron Rountree followed with an RBI triple of his own to make it a 5-1 game and chase Kotwica.
The senior struck out three, walked two and gave up six hits and five runs — four of each coming in the fourth inning.
“A bad inning? Sure. But that’s one of the best baseball teams around,” Welker said. “You can’t take any credit away from them. Their guys hit the ball. I didn’t look at it as us doing things bad. I saw it as they’re a good baseball team. We knew that’s the team they were going to be. You can’t give them an inch, and we gave them an inch.”
Derek McDonagh threw 2 1-3 innings of solid relief, though, allowing two hits and only one more run as the Panthers made it 6-1 in the bottom of the sixth. Tre Poster hit a one-out double and scored on an RBI single by Justin McConnell, putting Troy down by five heading into the final inning.
Down to their final out, Troy made things happen again.
Senior Chaz Copas drew a one-out walk, then Brandenburg — who was 2 for 4 with two runs in the game — singled with two outs to keep the Trojans alive. Kotwica followed by ripping a two-run single down the third-base line to finally chase Saunier off the mound, but Springboro’s closer got a strikeout to finish off the game.
It was the final game for Troy’s three seniors, Kotwica, Copas and Zion Taylor.
“Those three seniors, they will be missed,” Welker said. “The things you don’t see, the things off the field, on the bus, in the locker room, those three are leaders through and through. They’re good examples of Troy baseball. Whether they were in the game, not in the game, on the mound, whatever the situation was, they were true leaders — and they had a lot on their shoulders, too, since there was only three of them. Those guys did everything I asked whenever I asked, and that’s all you can ever ask of your guys.
“This team grew so much this year. We are a much different team than we were at the start of the season.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.