CINCINNATI — For the first time in 31 years, Eaton’s baseball team is headed back to the regionals.
Behind a dominant pitching performance from junior Brady Rice, timely hitting and solid defense, the Eagles beat Batavia 3-1 on Saturday, May 28, in a Division II District Final at Princeton High School.
“It’s been 31 years since we’ve won a district title and I couldn’t ask for a better group of seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen and coaching staff to do it,” Eaton first-year coach Bob Ebright said. “Just happy for the community. Happy for the boys. Happy for the school. And I’m just glad it’s not over yet. I couldn’t ask for a better group of boys to have my first year as a varsity coach.”
The Eagles (20-5) were making their first district final appearance since the 2003 season and hadn’t won a district championship since the 1991 season.
Eaton will now play Delaware Buckeye Valley in the regional semifinals on Thursday, June 2 at Mason High School. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m. In the other semifinal, Hamilton Badin will play Cleves Taylor at 2 p.m.
Rice was in command right from the outset. He allowed just six hits and struck out 11 to earn the win.
“He’s just a workhorse right now. I can’t say enough. He’s an ultimate competitor. I’m not sure there’s a better compliment you can give to a person or a young man competing, an athlete,” Ebright said. “He wants the ball. He wants the game on the line.”
Rice has pitched all three of the Eagles’ tournament games which include wins over Valley View (7-1) and Greenville (10-0) in the district semifinal on Tuesday, May 24. In the win over Greenville, he allowed just two hits and stuck out nine in just five innings. Over the three games, Rice has allowed just 11 hits and struck out 30 batters.
Ebright said his team is made up of players who aren’t afraid to shy away from competition.
“I think one through nine we have a lot of those guys just as competitive, and it makes for a quality program and a quality team, and I think that’s what we got right now,” he said.
Eaton scored a run in the bottom of the first to take a 1-0 lead.
Senior Theo Winings, who was 2-for-4 with two runs scored, drew a one-out walk then stole second. After a fly out, junior Reid Tinstman (2-for-2) delivered a single to right to score Winings.
The scored remained 1-0 until the Bulldogs struck in the top of the fourth. A two-out double plated a run to tie the game at 1-1.
An inning later, Eaton regained the lead for good.
Winings began the bottom of the fifth with a single to left. Rice followed with a single to right. Tinstman, the team’s number four hitter, was then asked to bunt. He executed the play to perfection pushing the bunt down the third base line. A moment of hesitation by the Bulldogs allowed all three runners to be safe.
“We’ve said it throughout the year, to beat really good teams you’re going to have to put bunts down,” Ebright said. “And one through nine, I trust every one of our guys getting a bunt down. It just came to the opportunity our four hole hitter had to do it twice and he got two sacrifices down. We talk about just do what’s best for the team and it’s all about the team first.”
Senior Christian Reyna, who went 1-for-3, then followed with a single to center to score Winings and Rice to give the Eagles a 3-1 lead.
Batavia threatened to scored in the sixth. A one-out double and a batter hit by a pitch put the tying runs on base. Rice wasn’t fazed as he struck out the next batter to end the threat.
In the seventh, Batavia got a two-out singe to center, but Rice finished off the game with his 11th strike out setting of a celebration near the pitcher’s mound.
Ebright credits this team’s success to the fact most of the players were part of the SWBL champion football and basketball teams and that success has carried over into the spring.
“I think playing other sports and there’s been a lot of success among those seniors and juniors in football, in basketball, all other sports and you can’t say enough about finding success and it just breeds it right now,” Ebright said. “Winning’s contagious. We did it in football. We did it in basketball, and it’s just contagious right now.”
Ebright noted the community support has been appreciated and he hopes it continues on to the regional.
“I can’t say enough about our fans, our parents. We’ve had great crowds everywhere we’ve gone. I just can’t say enough about our fan support, and I just want to thank them,” he said.
Ebright had to make the near hour trip home wet. Prior to his team posing for a few photos, he was doused with a bucket of water.
“I didn’t know it was coming,” he said. “But that’s the one I can probably handle for a while. Usually when you get one of those something really good has happened and something really good did happen.”
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on Twitter @emowenjr