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CRESTON -- A walk-off grand slam by Chippewa shortstop James Hugland in the bottom of the eighth inning snapped a 3-3 tie with Loudonville on Tuesday, May 16, sending the Chipps to a dramatic 7-3 victory in a Division III district semifinal at Norwayne High School.
Hugland, who had been struggling at the plate in recent weeks, only needed a sacrifice fly to score the winning run -- and that's what it looked like at first -- but the ball continued to carry over the leftfield fence some 325 feet from where he made contact. "I was just trying to hit the ball hard," said Hugland. "It was a high, inside fastball, and I was able to turn on it. I thought it might be going out."
Hugland's teammate, Drew Ellis, said he knew it was going out, and he couldn't have been more excited. Ellis turned in a gutsy performance on the mound, pitching a complete game for his fifth victory in seven decisions this season. He also contributed in a big way at the plate, hitting a two-run homer in the first and igniting the game-winning rally with a leadoff double in the eighth.
"This was definitely one of my best games," said Ellis. "I didn't start off well, but I figured some things out, mainly getting my control and hitting my spots."
Chippewa head coach Ben Hymes had high praise for his talented righthander. "Drew battled for eight innings," said Hymes. "He wouldn't have been able to go out in the ninth inning (because of the new OSHAA pitch count, which limits high school pitchers in Ohio to 125 per game). "He gave everything he had."
Loudonville got to Ellis early with two runs in the first inning. Shortstop Dylan Polen led off with a walk, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by leftfielder Connor Young, and scored on an RBI single by pitcher Logan Fisher. Fisher then scored on an RBI double by catcher Mason Huffman, who was gunned down when he tried to advance to third on the throw from the outfield. Catcher Luke Brown fired a strike to third baseman Gary Thonen who applied the tag. Ellis ended the inning by striking out Redbird third baseman Garrett Fry.
The Chipps tied it at 2-2 in the bottom of the inning on the two-run homer by Ellis. After that, Ellis and Fisher locked horns in a pitcher's duel. For the next four innings, the two pitchers held their opponents scoreless, while each retired 12 of the 14 batters they faced and combined for seven strikeouts (four by Ellis and three by Fisher)
The Redbirds retook the lead in the top of the sixth when Fisher singled with one out and scored on a two-out RBI single by first baseman Greg Griffin. Chippewa answered with a single tally in the bottom of the sixth to tie the score at 3-3. Brown reached on an error, advanced to second when first baseman Trent Harrell was hit by a pitch, moved to third on a groundout by Hugland, and scored on a groundout by designated hitter Ray Petit.
Neither team scored in the seventh, sending the game into extra innings. In the top of the eighth inning, Loudonville threatened as Huffman and Fry hit back-to-back singles with one out. Fry's single got away from rightfielder Spencer Bailey, and the runners advanced to third and second respectively. This prompted Hymes to call for an intentional walk to Griffin to load the bases. Loudonville rightfielder Hayden Brightbill hit a bouncing ball to Thonen at third, and he made a tight throw to Brown at the plate to force out Huffman. Ellis then struck out Justin VanSickle to end the threat.
In the bottom of the eighth, Ellis led off with a double. Brown then laid down a sacrifice bunt to the right of the pitcher's mound. Fisher had no play at third and a slight bobble prevented him from throwing to first. This prompted Loudonville head coach Brandon Grimes to have Fisher intentionally walk Harrell, setting the table for Hugland's heroics that lifted the Chipps to a 17-6 overall record and a chance to play in today's district championship game.
Grimes, whose team finished with a 19-7 overall record and a perfect 12-0 Mid-Buckeye Conference mark, was understandably disappointed with the loss, but very upbeat about his team's accomplishments this season. "I've never been prouder of a group of guys," said Grimes. "I am extremely happy with how hard they worked and all that they accomplished.
"I told them to leave here with heads high. Winning 19 games didn't happen by accident."