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A walk-off walk gave the Collins baseball team its first district title.
Spencer County pitcher Austin Heilman walked Dan Sanders on four pitches to bring home Nate Clifton in the bottom of the seventh inning and give the Titans a 4-3 victory over the Bears on Wednesday night in the 30th District Tournament final at the Shelby County Athletic Complex.
“I wanted to get a walk-off hit, but the walk-off walk was just as good,” said Sanders, who had the walk-off RBI-single in the bottom of the ninth inning in Collins’ 1-0 victory over Anderson County in Tuesday night’s semifinals.
Sanders’ walk, combined with a strong pitching performance by Buddy Johnson, gave the Titans their first district championship in their 3-year history.
“It feels good to finally get the first one,” said Johnson, whose team will play in next week’s 8th Region Tournament at South Oldham. “We’ve been the favorite the last three years. To finally get one, it feels good.”
Collins, seeded No. 1 each of the last three years, lost to Anderson County in the district final in 2011 and was upset by crosstown-rival Shelby County in 11 innings in last year’s semifinals.
“It feels amazing, especially after how we went out last year,” Sanders said.
But, as has been the case recently for the Titans (29-6), this didn’t come easily. Collins took a 3-1 lead into the sixth inning before the Bears plated single runs in the top of that frame as well as the seventh.
Third-seeded Spencer County (21-10) took the early lead when Chase Barnes led off the game with a single to center field. He advanced to second on a fielder’s choice, took third on an error and scored on another fielder’s choice.
However Collins, which beat the Bears, 5-0, on April 22 in Shelbyville, responded with a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning.
Clifton walked with one out, advanced to second on Johnson’s single, to third when Zac Wiley was walked and scored when Sanders hit into a fielder’s choice. Johnson followed him home on an error.
The Titans added another run in the second, when Paul Miller led off with an infield single. Then Justin Eden, who ran for Miller, advanced to second when Clifton was hit by a pitch, to third on a wild pitch and scored on Johnson’s ground out.
After Spencer plated its run in the first, Johnson, who also earned the victory with one inning or relief in Tuesday night’s game against Anderson County, retired 13 Bears in a row by relying primarily on his fastball, he said, “Spotting it on the inside corner.”
“The curveball wasn’t working – the umpire had a real tight zone – but I kept working and working, and I fought through it.”
Johnson’s streak ended when he walked Jacob Cole to start the sixth inning. Barnes followed with a single, advanced to second on a fielder’s choice and scored on a throwing error.
It wasn’t over yet, though.
In the top of the seventh Johnson nicked Brian Riggs’ uniform with a 1-out pitch, and Riggs advanced to third when Josh Ferency – the hero of Tuesday night’s victory over Shelby County – reached on a throwing error. Riggs scored moments later on Cole’s sacrifice fly.
The potential winning run was stranded at second base, though, when Barnes flew out to Clifton in center field.
Clifton led off the bottom of the seventh with a single through the left side of the infield, stole second and went to third on a wild pitch. Johnson was walked and then so was Wiley, intentionally, to load the bases and bring up Sanders.
“I was going to take [pitches] until I got a strike,” Sanders said.
As it turned out, he didn’t get one. Heilman threw four consecutive pitches out of the strike zone.
“I don’t think he got tired. He just wasn’t hitting his spots as well as he did early in the game,” Johnson said.
Johnson gave up two earned runs on two hits while walking one and striking out four.
“Buddy pitched outstanding,” Collins Coach Roy Bailey said. “That’s what’s keeping us in the game, our pitchers.”
Bailey had senior standout Austin Perry warming up in the bullpen when the game ended. He said he planned on bringing in Perry, a University of Kentucky recruit who hasn’t pitched since experiencing some arm soreness in the Titans’ 5-1 loss to Tates Creek in the Louisville Invitational Tournament on April 26, if the game reached the eighth inning.
“We’re hoping to have him ready for next week some time,” Bailey said.
The 8th Region Tournament pairings will be determined Saturday, and play will begin Monday.
30th District Tournament
At Shelby County Athletic Complex
Collins 1, Anderson County 0 (9 innings); Spencer County 4, Shelby County 2
COLLINS 4, SPENCER COUNTY 3
Spencer County 100 001 1 – 3 2 4
Collins 210 000 1 – 4 4 3
Austin Heilman and Nathan Connard. Buddy Johnson and Zac Wiley. W – Johnson (4-1). L – Heilman. Records – Spencer County 21-10, Collins 29-6.
All-tournament team:Shae Sparrow and Brandon Eliadis (Anderson County); Kipp Moore and Jakub Noonan (Shelby County); Josh Ferency, Nick Vuick and Lance Shelton (Spencer County); Nate Clifton, Buddy Johnson, Zac Wiley and Dan Sanders (Collins).
8th Region Tournament
At South Oldham
Pairings to be determined; play begins Monday
29th District - North Oldham (16-12), South Oldham (19-14).
30th District - Winner: Collins (29-6); runner-up: Spencer County (21-10).
31st District - Owen County (16-17), Gallatin County (10-20).
32nd District - Winner: Simon Kenton (21-14); runner-up: Walton-Verona (11-17).