By Josh Brown
FAIRBORN — Troy baseball coach Ty Welker knew it wasn’t necessarily sacrifice bunt attempt that turned into a single, leading to a two-run single by Northmont’s Garrett McGough in the top of the ninth inning that produced the game’s only two runs, that decided the game.
Or a questionable called third strike with the potential tying runs on base in the bottom half of the inning.
In a game that remained deadlocked at 0-0 through eight full innings, Troy was 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position, missing opportunities to end the game in regulation in four separate innings and seeing its potential game-tying rally cut short in extras as fifth-seeded Northmont spoiled a strong outing by starter Derek McDonagh and upset the No. 3 Trojans 2-0 in nine innings in the Division I sectional championship game Saturday night at Wright State University’s Nischwitz Stadium.
“This game was not lost in the last inning,” Welker said. “That game was lost with us not getting any hits with guys on second base in multiple innings. That’s where the game was lost — us not getting a hit when it mattered. It wasn’t lost on any call that was made at the end, any bunt that was hit in the ninth. That’s the reality of it. It was in our hands, and we didn’t take care of it.”
And McDonagh’s effort was stellar.
The Troy starter held a potent Northmont (18-11) offense in check all night, allowing only six hits — three of which came in the ninth inning — two walks and one hit-batter while striking out nine. And despite the Thunderbolts’ strategy to work counts, get his pitch count up and get to Troy’s bullpen, McDonagh still entered the ninth inning having thrown 110 pitches.
“Derek threw a heck of a game,” Welker said. “What else could he have done? Really, what else could he have done? He pitched a heck of a game.”
McDonagh got a hand from his defense, too. After McGough drew a leadoff walk and was bunted to second with one out in the seventh, a strike-em out, throw-em out double play ended the threat as McDonagh got the punchout and Keiran Williams gunned out McGough trying to steal third to keep the game scoreless.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, the only reason the game was scoreless at that point was the way Troy struggled in clutch situations against Northmont starter Jason Kohr — struggles compounded by how late the Trojans began every rally.
After a one-out single by Brandon Emery in the first inning, every other Trojan baserunner in the game came with two outs. In the second, Matt McGillivary and Emery hit back-to-back two-out singles to put runners on the corners, but a long flyout to the warning track in dead center by No. 3 hitter Jake Daniel — the team’s leader in RBIs on the season — ended that threat. And in the third, Cole Brogan singled with two outs and immediately stole second base to get into scoring position, only to have another flyout, this time by Austin Kendall, end the inning.
With two outs in the fifth, McGillivary was hit by a pitch and stole second, then Kohr pitched around Emery, who was 2 for 2 at that point, walking him on four pitches to put two runners on and again bring up Daniel. But this time, an inside pitch sent Daniel jumping back to avoid being hit, only to have the pitch called for a third strike to end the inning — something that proved to be a portent of things to come.
Troy had one more chance to score in the sixth, as Brogan and Kendall hit back-to-back two-out singles to again put two runners on. But after a lengthy at-bat and working a full count, Braeden Snider softly lined out to second to end the inning and keep the score tied 0-0 after six — and it stayed that way through eight complete.
“It came down to execution,” Welker said. “Our leadoff hitters in innings swung at a lot of first pitches and hit them right at people. Maybe we could’ve extended some at-bats and got to their bullpen earlier than the ninth. I didn’t like our approach leading off innings. But we got guys on (with two outs) and stole bases, but we just couldn’t get hits when it mattered. And the two times we did get hits with guys on, we didn’t get the guy to second first. We had some steal attempts with McGillivary (in the third) but couldn’t get him to second, then Emery got a hit. Same thing with Brogan and Kendall in the sixth. It was a pitch too soon or too late.”
All told, the Trojans and Thunderbolts each had six hits in the game, with Emery going 2 for 3 and Brogan going 2 for 4 to lead Troy. But the Trojans’ No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters went a combined 0 for 12 on the night, hitting the ball hard each time — but right at someone.
And all of that led to Northmont finally taking the lead in the ninth.
Nick Moomey — who was 3 for 4 in the game — singled to lead off, then Adam Bendinelli dragged a bunt attempt down the first-base line for a single to put two on. Ryan Pullins bunted the runners up to second and third with one out, and McGough sent a 1-2 pitch straight back up the middle for a two-run single to make it a 2-0 game. Troy first baseman Daniel and shortstop Brogan turned a 3-6-3 double play to get out of the inning, but it still put the Trojans down by two going into the bottom of the ninth.
“We know what kind of team they are,” Welker said. “They’re going to take advantage of situations.”
Northmont brought in Cole Stephens to close out the game, and he struck out the first two batters he saw. But Troy began one final two-out rally as Snider drew a walk and Matt Bigley was hit by a pitch to put two on and bring up McGillivary, who worked his way to a full count.
But on another inside pitch that sent McGillivary jumping backwards to avoid getting hit, a delayed call on a third strike as McGillivary had already begun walking to first base kicked off a Northmont celebration and put a stunning end to Troy’s season.
And what a season it was for the Trojans, who went 17-10, won a share of the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division championship — the team’s first division title since 2014 — and reached the sectional final for the second straight season. Troy’s last trip to the district final came in 2015.
“We were right where we expected to be, and we were in a game lost in nine innings. How can we be disappointed?” Welker said. “They’re teenage boys that worked their butts off and did everything they were asked to do, and these seniors, their impact on our program will last for years to come. These seniors deserved their accomplishments and all the recognition they got, and I know our guys behind them will be ready to play and go at it.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.